In Monmouthshire, challenges associated with COVID-19 have been met with an incredible and collective response by communities and organisations- over sixty volunteer led community groups with over 1000 volunteers mobilised overnight. Monmouthshire Council’s strategy was to tackle COVID-19 with communities and to support the volunteer groups in every way they could.
The council coordinated a ‘virtual community network’, with a clear collective purpose- to protect life and support communities, with no gaps and no duplication.
While the community groups were able to develop fast, local solutions that changed people’s lives during lockdown and shielding, the council could provide structure through partnership working. Social Workers professionally and efficiently screened all individuals to ensure it was appropriate for a volunteer to support them and then allocated the support in a timely manner.
To supplement the virtual networks, the council launched an online community- Our Monmouthshire, providing an alternative structure for people to ask for and offer help.
Aware of the potential in communities, the council delivers the Community Leadership Programme, which offers a suite of training, learning and personal development opportunities for community volunteers, for example- Successful Grant Writing training for volunteer groups exploring next steps after COVID-19.
There are currently 29 Autism Leads in Local Authorities across Wales which forms a network of shared practice and engagement. Throughout Covid-19, the network has continued to support and engage with their local autistic communities. Some examples of their innovative practice:
The National Autism Team (NAT) have continued to facilitate the quarterly National Autism Leads network meetings virtually, and introduced regional “Hwb” meetings, to encourage strong engagement across the specialism and to provide an opportunity to share good practice on a national, regional and local level. The attendance levels have been record-breaking via this new format, as more Leads are able to attend with the absence of travel time.
The Leads continue to play an essential role in disseminating information from the NAT locally, and informing national policy and guidance through local networks and engagement in a grass-roots approach. The network continues to ‘sign-post’ the people they support and professional colleagues to the NAT Covid-19 Information webpage, and Facebook and Twitter pages.
A “Virtual Autism Team Wales” was established by the National Autism Team (NAT) at the beginning of Covid-19 lockdown, and its meetings continue to be facilitated and led by the National Autism Professional Lead. The Group includes autistic people, professionals from Health and Social Care, voluntary organisations from across Wales and the NAT. The Group has been meeting weekly to discuss “live” issues facing the autistic community and to prepare useful resources to support autistic people and their families and carers during Covid-19.
The resources are then shared to the NAT’s Covid-19 Information hub webpage and published to the NAT’s Facebook and Twitter pages. All resources that the Group produce are available in Welsh and English, and include, but are not limited to:
The meetings take place virtually, which allows psychologists and psychiatrists from across the country to attend, who would otherwise not be able to due to travel time constraints. As lockdown restrictions continue to ease in Wales, the Group will meet less frequently, but continue to develop useful advice and guidance regarding issues such as transition back to school, transportation and vaccination.
Rhondda Cynon Taf’s (RCT) Youth Engagement and Participation Service (YEPS) is committed to supporting young people aged 11 to 25 to improve their resilience to deal with current and future challenges, supporting their well-being and their positive engagement in and contribution to the communities in which they live.
The new ‘Virtual’ delivery model has been swiftly developed and rolled out which in addition to instant messaging services, virtual youth clubs on zoom and instagram Q&Q sessions etc, includes WICID.TV, for young people not engaged in education, employment or training, which features instructional videos on a range of topics, such as applying for a job, STAR techniques, virtual job interviews and more videos are being added on a weekly basis. The Employment, Education & Training (EET) section also includes links to apprenticeships on offer in RCT, Career Wales support, college virtual open days etc. In partnership the Council were also able to offer the first virtual work experience week in RCT, which encouraged many post 16 young people to go on-line to source careers advice, etc.
Residents and businesses across Carmarthenshire are showing remarkable community spirit by helping and supporting those in need in their communities during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. A number of voluntary groups have been set up to help wherever they can, offering both practical and emotional support. Connect Carmarthenshire has been created to bring communities and individuals together – a place to offer or request help to / from neighbours and the wider community. This platform is available to anyone who lives in Carmarthenshire. Users to the website can sign up to SirGâredig – Sharing Carmarthenshire’s Kindness, a regional campaign to encourage more people to be kind to each other. The Council’s website has lots of helpful information on the various support groups that have been set up and how to volunteer. Town and community councils are also co-ordinating volunteers in their areas and working closely with local groups.
There are 7 Integrated Autism Services across Wales. They are a partnership between all 22 LAs and 7 Health Boards – each mirrors the Health Board footprint. The services have a dual role of undertaking adult autism diagnostic assessments and offering support, advice and guidance to autistic adults, parents and carers, and professionals. Covid-19 has resulted in all services adapting their practice and developing innovative solutions, such as:
Research has been built into many of the projects to examine the effectiveness, long term impact and the viability of developing an ongoing blended approach. The initial feedback from many autistic people has been very positive as, especially in rural areas, it has reduced the anxiety of accessing venues, offices etc. The outcome of the research will feed into the long-term development plans of both the IASs and autism services generally in Wales.
Engage to Change (E2C) is Monmouthshire’s Youth Council, responded to the Covid-19 situation quickly by scheduling on-line weekly meetings. The aim of these sessions is to ensure that the voice of young people in Monmouthshire’s needs continue to be heard and supported.
Initially, E2C discussed the experiences, issues and emotions that they and their peers were having in the early stages of lockdown and invited Dr Sarah Brown (Clinical Psychologist, Gwent Community Psychology, Aneurin Bevan Health Board) on how young people could develop resilience. As result, young people helped generate content for the Youth Service’s daily stories on Facebook and Instagram, including on the service’s ‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’. Young people were involved in trialling social media platforms that were used by the Youth Services’ digital work offer for on-line youth and lunchtime clubs and drop-in sessions.
E2C has maintained contact with the South East Wales Regional Forum and currently progressing the Ucan project as part of the Welsh Government’s Additional learning Needs Transformation Fund. Working regionally has enabled E2C share experiences with young people from other geographical areas, developing relationships and support networks, as well as confidence and self-esteem.
Recently E2C have started to host weekly Q&A sessions with decision-makers to discuss issues identified by young people, such as mental health, transport, education and Monmouthshire’s priorities identified in the British Council Make your Mark consultation.
As part Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council’ s response to supporting the most vulnerable during the pandemic, virtual locality response teams mapped local assets and support, such as community groups, businesses etc. in a locality to enable the community to support itself. The Council also collected data to identify those who may have needed more support, such as those on the shielding lists. Councillors were a vital contributor to the collection of this data given their local knowledge of residents in their ward. The Council were able to match volunteers to individuals to provide the support they needed. It has also helped them better understand resident’s life experience, some of whom have fed back on how they welcomed the interaction in this way. The Council are working on remodelling the next phase of the service linked to existing delivery such supporting people and community connectors.
Pembrokeshire Youth Homelessness Team have adapted their practices to engage, educate, inform and support both young people and professional colleagues. These initiatives include: Tenancy Skills & Homelessness Awareness Courses delivered through a blended learning programme; Interactive sessions with access to youth workers, as well as a repository of resources and a range of challenges, quizzes, work tasks and videos, will be hosted via a Virtual Learning Environment Platform (VLE). Individuals work will be set and monitored through this platform, with opportunities to access our physical learning environment in the Independent Living Centre (ILC) on a controlled appointment only basis. These sessions will be planned to coincide with key learning milestones achieved in the VLE. Those lacking the ICT skills to complete via this platform will be offered extra face to face sessions. Those without an appropriate device will be loaned one.
The Pembrokeshire Community Hub is a one-stop shop for any support required during the current pandemic, from help with shopping to a friendly telephone call. It is a partnership between Pembrokeshire County Council, Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services (PAVS), Hywel Dda University Health Board and Delta Wellbeing. Residents who would like to volunteer are signposted to a web based interactive directory of community support organisations that are registered with PAVS, or they can volunteer directly through Volunteering Wales. 94 Community Support Groups have registered with PAVS, and over 600 volunteers have registered with Volunteering Wales.
The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) represents the interests of local government and promotes local democracy in Wales.
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