‘Zoom’, ‘Cisco Webex’ and ‘PowWow’ might not be words we used that often in our everyday working lives a couple of months ago, but these virtual conferencing tools are now very much part and parcel of how organisations are keeping in touch with each other throughout the Coronavirus Crisis.

Partners right across the Wakefield District have adapted their working practices, and one excellent example of what this means in practice is the collaboration between Nova Wakefield District, The Art House and Wakefield and District Health and Community Support, who are making a positive difference by providing early financial support to voluntary and community organisations and groups across Wakefield now facing massive financial pressure due to lockdown restrictions.

Remote working has become the new ‘normal’, and through a mixture of regular video conferencing and daily telephone calls and email updates, these organisations have helped to distribute more than £1,000,000 to third sector groups and organisations, who are working around the clock to keep local communities going in these challenging times. To date, more than 60 beneficiaries have received funding and grants, which will enable them to continue their vital work to support the most vulnerable people and communities across the Wakefield District.

The charity Wakefield and District Health and Community Support (WDHCS) has made funds of £150,000 available, including a Lifeline Grant to the Community Hubs set up through Nova to support local people, so they that can respond quickly to local emergencies and individual needs – buying food provisions, distributing medication and responding to personal cries for help. Here are just some of the ways the Hubs are helping:

Westfield Centre Community Hub (South Elmsall)

One elderly lady who suffers from COPD, and who only had the support of her nephew up until he died of Covid-19 very recently, said that the Hub is now her only support and without their services she would be completely isolated and alone.

St George’s Community Hub (Lupset)

Telephone befriending is going really well, often helping to reassure people that they are doing the right thing. One lady said: "it's just so nice to know that you are thinking about me and making the time to contact me for a chat, thank you".

Eastmoor Community Hub

They received a call from a distressed Mum who had no food for her 2 year old who has had open heart surgery and needed high fat content food. They were able to pay. Eastmoor provided the Mum with an emergency food parcel for overnight and contacted her again the next day.

WDHCS is also distributing the National Emergencies Trust (NET) Funds in Wakefield – with grants of up to £10,000 available to alleviate the financial pressures on the third sector, and already more than £152,000 has been allocated to Wakefield District, with more to come. Kath Lindley, CEO, said: “This new way of working has not always been easy. We are so used to working from our offices, face to face, or by email, so being at home and seeing people’s faces pop up on the small screen was a bit disturbing to start with! The longer it goes on though, the easier it gets and a lot of us think that this might become the new ‘normal’ after social distancing restrictions are eased.”

The Art House is another local partner, which is redistributing £110k of its Small Business Emergency Relief grant from the Government to support creative businesses in Wakefield District who would otherwise slip through the cracks of the Government’s emergency funding. Sydney Thornbury, CEO, The Art House, commented: “At The Art House we feel that creativity isn't just about art - it's an approach for solving all sorts of problems. Pooling our resources and collaborating with Nova and WDHCS gives us the chance to take a strategic and creative approach to grant making, making sure that the emergency relief money constructively supports as many organisations across the third sector as possible.”

Nova Wakefield District is the support agency for the voluntary and community sector. Nova has distributed more than £168,000 of Live Well Wakefield Small Grants and Emotional Mental Health and Wellbeing Grants, both of which are funded by Wakefield Council and Wakefield CCG. This money will help many local organisations and groups to maintain their projects, many of which are about keeping socially isolated people connected – an area we know is having a massive impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. Mary Roche, Nova Adviser, is co-ordinating a local response and reported that: “In the first month we have established 16 Community Hubs, supported by 262 new volunteers responding to 1630 calls for help and support which wouldn’t be possible without this partnership work”.

In addition to the work of these three key partners, other organisations are also doing their bit to help. Wakefield Council is supporting the Community Hubs as part of their response, and a new local appeal called #WakefieldCares, aims to raise a further £100,000 to help frontline voluntary organisations and groups to continue to provide support during the Coronavirus outbreak. The campaign is supported by Community Foundation Wakefield District, Wakefield and District Health and Community Support, Nova Wakefield District, WDH, and Wakefield Council.

This story shows that the new ways of working, are working, and that so much is being done that has a positive impact. So, as long as social distancing continues, organisations will continue working remotely in the future. People will get used to the awkwardness of communicating via a screen, seeing people’s faces freeze as the internet drops in and out, and the constant cries of ‘You are on Mute!’ and with practice, we should should all get better at working like this, and maybe it will become the new ‘normal’.