Johnny Sertin, part of the team supporting CMS pioneer learning hubs around the country, and a pioneer priest in Earlsfield, south-west London, reports on how his local community has come together to make sure everyone is cared for and no one is alone during the Covid-19 pandemic:
It’s the best of times and the worst of times! Worst for obvious reasons, perhaps best is a little harder to see in the midst of the chaos. But the disruption of the normal is the territory of pioneering. This has been our chance to stage what another world could look like if we take a collective pause, consider neighbourliness, pay attention to the whispers of our inner life, and give time to what matters.
In Earlsfield I have been fortunate enough to play a role to establish Earlsfield Together. This was the response to a conversation between three friends who saw a glimpse of what was coming around the corner and asked the question ‘what do we have in our hands to help?’
Earlsfield Together’s strategy is to catalyse, connect and empower local community eco-systems. We’ve done this through three initiatives: Earlsfield Together Network; Earlsfield Together Street Communities; and, Earlsfield Together Hub.
The network is a coalition of stakeholders who are either formal or informal community leaders. Our aim is to help them connect and network together to share info, match needs with assets, and troubleshoot. We have a communication channel between this network and the grassroots street communities emerging. WhatsApp is used as a rapid response on the ground plus a weekly open forum on Zoom for sharing, brainstorming and problem solving.
We’ve catalysed Earlsfield Together Street Communities, which aims to find a coordinator on every street. Coordinators help form community and facilitate care between the households. This care is both material and relational. These coordinators share information and learn from one another. Our non-centralised approach allows the streets to be hyper-local and a self-supporting ecosystem. The Earlsfield Together network allows them access to Earlsfield-wide resources. There are now 135 street communities.
The Earlsfield Together Hub is a small dynamic hub to serve the network and street communities by keeping a communications flow going, some strategic input, liaison work, research and capturing data both downstream in the neighbourhood and upstream nationally. We are creating processes to build infrastructures but staying out of operations, allowing people to self-organise and connect street by street.
To be clear this is not ‘pioneering’ in the sense of being led by a faith-based group or agenda and absolutely is not about a means of sharing faith. To do so would be both crass and marginalise the inclusivity of the street communities. This is a response by many and all to stand together, or more often sit (!), to care for each other in the face of a common struggle.
Do share any of your practical ideas and experience on community responses in the comments.