Winkleigh Parish Council

Winkleigh Parish Council have been active in a setting up a help service for people who are self-isolating or unable to access their normal help, due to community staff being furloughed. Winkleigh Parish comprises the village of Winkleigh and the main hamlet of Hollocombe. The council met on March the 19th to plan our response. One councillor agreed to support Hollocombe and another agreed to coordinate the service and seek volunteers through email drop, Face book, the Parish Council website and leaflets. We agreed to set up a telephone line, a separate email address and to print and distribute information leaflets throughout the Parish. The email address went live the next morning, but we encountered difficulties sourcing a separate telephone line and so the Parish Clerk agreed that the Parishioners could ring that number if they had no access to email.

Aside from the dedicated telephone line, we also encountered difficulties sourcing the printing of the leaflets. We published some immediately online and many of these were printed off by councillors and parishioners and distributed to self-isolating persons and vulnerable people. We intended to use the volunteers who normally distribute the parish magazine on foot, but most of these people were in the self-isolating category due to age and so in the end the leaflets had to go out by royal mail to those we could not hand-deliver to.

Despite difficulties with leaflet production, word got around from day one with people requesting help and asking to volunteer. The coordinator was overwhelmed by the number of people willing to volunteer and by the end of the first week, we had over thirty volunteers and a few people asking for help. However, this changed as news got about and people started to take the lock down seriously. Four weeks into the pandemic the number of people needing help on a regular basis and the complexity of some of the needs being addressed meant that a further recruitment drive was necessary and a further 17 volunteers came forward. At the time of writing we have nearly 60 volunteers from all walks of life, of all ages supporting the help service. These volunteers have carried out many tasks: taking people to hospital, supporting the elderly and infirm in their own homes, supermarket shopping, dog walking, medication collection, gardening, lawn mowing, food preparation and errands to the local shops.

The co-ordinator checked each volunteer against the electoral roll and where necessary asked for references and or DBS registration. Volunteers were asked about their experience so people with certain skills could be matched with need if required. This checking process meant that people could have their details shared with permission and permanent partnerships could evolve and contact can be made directly. Helpers update the co-ordinator once a week and ring for advice and support where necessary. All the information is kept on a spreadsheet and emailed to the Clerk daily in case the co-ordinator becomes unwell. This allows for service continuity. Referrals have been made to Social Services, Age UK, CAB, food banks and other agencies. The Parish Clerk has also been active in applying for grants, so we have been able to support those in need with loans or cash payments.

As well as making referrals, the help service has also received referrals from CAB, Social Services, TDC, Waitrose, Post office, doctors, good neighbours and local stores and services.

Local businesses have also helped by changing the way they operate and making deliveries. The council has been able to support those businesses with small grants to reward their employees and volunteers or to help with the cost of fuel. Local businesses have shown great dexterity in their ability to manage change and consolidate business continuity and community support.

As regards other council activities in lockdown, the Parish Council has responded by delegating emergency powers to the clerk, to enable her to act on their behalf to ensure that urgent matters are dealt with. The Clerk speaks to Chair and Vice Chair by phone most days and several zoom meetings have taken place between the chairs and the clerk. The Council held its first ‘remote’ meeting using Zoom last week which was attended by members of the public, district and county councillors.  Unfortunately, the annual parish council meeting and annual parish meeting are both cancelled this year, and our internal and external audit timescales have been extended by two months.

Finally, the covid support coordinator has kept a file of compliments and suggestions and the compliments far outweigh the reverse. The suggestions have been used to review practice and learn. The council have been over whelmed by kind messages and the willingness of parishioners to support the council and step up to volunteer, in some cases permanently, so that new friends and acquaintances have been made and when this is over many of these new found friendships will endure, thus reducing loneliness and social isolation.

I will end with a quote from the compliments folder:

“I really appreciated the way you were with me and how you were sensitive to my concerns without being intrusive. The shopping help I need has been set up easily and with a lot of good feeling. The volunteer was passed over to me in a sensitive way so I don’t feel insecure. I’m feeling much less anxious about the whole situation. Getting food has proved difficult and very stressful. Now I can relax more knowing I have support.”

Angela Findlay

Vice Chair Winkleigh Parish Council

Help Service Co-ordinator