South Brent Case Study - 'Our COVID-19 Response: How We’ve Done It'

We now have a support system and network which works.  It is, thankfully, so far not being tested to its capabilities but we have confidence it can cope with a severe downturn in fortune.  We thought it might be helpful for any other community or area looking for ideas to strengthen their preparations for the possible waves to come.  We recognise that our community started with some pretty clear advantages: location, size and a history of community support, but we also have a higher proportion of vulnerable individuals and families than the national average, either through age, health or poverty.  Our experience may not work for everyone else, but it might spark some ideas.  In that spirit…this is our story so far…..

What we’ve done

South Brent is a large village on the southern edge of Dartmoor. In mid-March 2020, a group of villagers and representatives from local organisations and businesses made a plan to help those self-isolating and experiencing financial hardship in the village and local parishes.

This has included:

  • Recruiting and organising local volunteers to support community efforts
  • Launching a village food bank for those experiencing financial hardship
  • Fundraising
  • Two leaflet drops to homes across the village and linked surrounding parishes
  • A prescription collection service, and shopping and takeaway deliveries for those self-isolating
  • A phone befriending service
  • A Facebook group to encourage people to support each other and share information digitally
  • Local counsellors, coaches and therapists have set up a listening service to support individuals’ well-being and mental health
  • ALL of this supported by a plan, a series of online tools and files, and a coordinating group meeting via Zoom weekly

As of 30 April, over 160 volunteers have come forward, the new community food bank has been set up and is delivering essentials, and over 400 deliveries of shopping have been made to those in self-isolation. The phone befriending service has made over 300 calls to those in isolation.  The listening service si helping behind the scenes and virtual coffee mornings are being arranged for the most isolate, including where achievable the introduction ot them, socially distanced and safely, of suitable IT to take part.  Virtual church services are underway for villagers and email bulletins are keeping people informed about the changing situation.  These numbers keep rising. 

How we did it

While this may sound like a lot of work (and it did take some thinking about!), we were amazed by the number of people who stepped up, and the broad range of valuable skills they offered. The village has its own charity, South Brent and District Caring, which has been operating in the village for six years, and supports elderly and vulnerable people. For some activities we were able to use their structure, resources and contacts to get things underway. You could however use a local council framework.

Virtual calls

Virtual meetings were key. Small breakout groups formed to work on particular areas, for example focusing on the food bank, the systems and admin required, or the delegation and support of volunteers.

Digital systems and data collection

It’s crucial that key players can work from home and access the information they need remotely – and securely.  GDPR regulations are not dormant in a crisis and we were fortunate to have the policies and experience of South Brent & District Caring to lean on.  Use a password-protected file hosting service like Google Drive or Dropbox and be very careful if you’re storing or recording personal information.  If you are, you must have a GDPR-compliant policy which people need to know and sign up to the use of their information within the bounds of that policy.  Have a plan for deletion after the crisis.

Make sure you have a back-up

Inevitably some of those involved might be out of action due to becoming ill, tired or suddenly have to focus on personal issues. Try to make sure everyone has a back-up who knows what they do and how they do it.

Operate safely

All we did was with the goal of helping others, but this must be done safely. Ensure you’re up-to-date with government and NHS advice and if possible involve your local health centre or pharmacy to seek their advice on protecting volunteers and vulnerable people to ensure activities are conducted as safely as possible. We’ve included our safety guidance for volunteers in the documents below.

Communicating under lock down

We had to think about how to let the community know about the support available. Luckily as so many volunteers came forward it was possible to organise a cadre to drop leaflets (above) at houses in the village and surrounding area. We also have a dedicated Facebook group to communicate information and set up a regular email bulletin. It’s important to remember that those who are isolated and vulnerable may not be online, this is also where the volunteer phone befriending service was extremely useful.  This grew from the befriending activities in the village before the crisis.


There are now lots of funds available to support community efforts, your local council might hold a list or be able to point you in the right direction. The local community has also been tremendously supportive of a PayPal Giving Fund campaign (only for charities registered with the Giving Fund – this can take some time to register), or you might choose to set up a crowdfunding campaign, but be aware of their charges.

You can do it too; you may already have done it!

We want to share what we’ve learnt, the systems we’ve developed and the documents we’re using. We’ve provided a number of example documents that you can use as a template or adapt for your own community response. Download all of them as a zip file here

Please make sure you adhere to the latest government and NHS guidance, this information will not now be updated unless we change tack or circumstances change considerably.  

Volunteer resources

The link above includes:

  • a sample community flyer for you to edit and use
  • a volunteer card for people to print and pop through a neighbour’s door
  • how to volunteer safely card
  • sample sign up to volunteer form and associated response spreadsheet

General Caring – for those seeking help

  • sample seek help form for people to fill in and associated response spreadsheet

Shopping assistance

We found that local shops were becoming overwhelmed with phone calls requesting home deliveries from people self-isolating. We set up an online form and a dedicated VoIP phone number run by volunteers to administrate these requests and pass them on the the shop by email. Shops then called individuals back to take payment over the phone and packed the order. Volunteers delivered the order safely.

It’s very important to speak to your shops and find out what their challenges are. Some are unable to provide payment over the phone or fulfil deliveries.

  • sample shopping assistance order form, associated response spreadsheet and overview of how the system works.

Food bank

The community crisis and pressure on people’s incomes led a working group to set up a food bank. This is no mean feat! Doing this in the context of COVID-19 provided additional challenges as it was necessary to deliver food and ensure food donations were carefully handled.

  • sample food bank seek help form and associated response spreadsheet.