Responding to the Covid-19 pandemic

COMMUNITY COMING TOGETHER

In the face of this unprecedented crisis, the sense of community in Stratford continues to be something we can rightly be proud of. Stratfordians across the town continue to support their families, friends, and neighbours who are vulnerable and may feel isolated – all while some may be struggling themselves.

From picking up and delivering shopping and medication, to clapping our key workers and NHS heroes, to simple smiles and waves as joggers and dog walkers pass each other, the acts of kindness that are demonstrated daily continue to add up, and continue to strengthen the ties that bind us.

We know that this is an unimaginably hard time for many in our community: those losing loved ones to the virus, those who have lost their livelihoods, those who are unsafe and isolated – alone or in abusive households.

The role of charities in supporting our communities through this cannot be overstated, and has often been underappreciated. But today, more than ever, charity – either organised groups or acts of human kindness – is at the heart of how we will overcome many of the obstacles in our path.

CURRENT SUPPORT

One way that we are supporting our community is through the Stratford Support group (https://www.stratfordsupport.org.uk/) , a fantastic partnership between Stratford Town Trust and Stratford Town Council. This site is currently supporting a large number of our community in need of deliveries, in need of friendly calls for those who are isolated, and through signposting to other agencies. An army of volunteers have come forward to support the operation – a huge thank you to those able to get out and about to supermarkets, and schedule in calls to residents – mainly to people they have never met before.

If you are in need to of support, do let us know through that website, where you can also find phone numbers for your local councillors if the request is urgent.

As a major supporter of charities that support our community, we also continue to explore how best we can do this now and in the future. In March, we had to make the difficult decision to postpone our usual grants round. We know this was a blow to many of the charities. This was for two key reasons: we wanted to step back and take stock of the situation so we could ensure our funding supports the most in need and most vulnerable members of our town, and secondly, as a charity, we have also been impacted by the pandemic. A significant proportion of the revenue we use to make grants comes from our property portfolio – and with many businesses struggling, closed, and furloughing staff, our income has taken a hit. Therefore we needed to better understand our financial position before committing grants to projects that – in many cases – could not be delivered this year.

We continue to be in regular contact with charities and community groups across the town to help us identify how we can best support them – both financially and emotionally. We are committed to supporting these amazing and vital groups, and will keep the community updated on how we plan to do this once a final decision has been made.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Having spoken to a number of charity leaders and staff in the past few weeks, it is clear that, in the midst of this crisis, there is a huge wave of positive community stories being shared. So what could this mean for us in the future?

We know many things will never be the same again – but some of these changes will be positive for us as a community and country, if we manage to harness the potential.

One charity leader said to me that there has been a “renaissance in community volunteering” and I couldn’t agree more. The vast numbers of people from all backgrounds in every part of the country who have stepped forward to support those facing challenges is something we can be proud of – and therefore must keep going. Many of us may have not known our neighbours before – and not have known they were isolated – and therefore we have the opportunity to keep these relationships going, and building new ones as we go with a renewed sense of purpose: to be a real community.

It has also helped us focus on what is truly important to us, and encouraged many of us to make more of an effort to contact friends and family to check in, share stories, and spend (virtual) fun times together. In a world where we can sometimes forget to check in because we are busy rushing here, there and everywhere, reconnecting and maintaining connections with the people that mean most to us should be the bedrock of our community in the future.

Once we have moved beyond this crisis, we will be here for our community. We will continue to provide support to help bring our community back together and celebrate the fantastic individuals across the town. We will be there to support our wonderful, vital, charities and community groups so that they can get back to doing what they do best: helping build a vibrant and connected community.

Take care of yourselves.
James

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