On 12th March 2020, local charity Oxford Hub launched Oxford Together, a volunteering programme to enable neighbourhood support during the COVID-19 pandemic. A year on, the project is still active and investing in creating a legacy that will keep people connected over the long term.
The project matches people willing to volunteer with others in their neighbourhood who are self-isolating or shielding due to COVID-19, or who simply need a bit of extra support. Volunteers help with simple tasks such as food shopping or collecting prescriptions; put themselves forward for the Hub’s Phone Links service to make regular social phone calls to isolated individuals in Oxfordshire; or step up to be Street Champions, mobilising people and coordinating activity on a street-by-street basis. Oxford Hub received an emergency grant of £10,000 from Oxfordshire Community Foundation (OCF) in April 2020 to enable them to freely and immediately refocus their attention where it was most needed.
Since then, the Oxford Together digital platform has processed over 9,100 requests for support to date, and mobilised over 1,200 people to volunteer in their communities with support from local partners including Arts at the Old Fire Station, Oxford City Council and Oxford Code Lab.
By the summer, the charity’s thoughts had already turned to the legacy that this project might have. Oxford Hub’s CEO Sara Fernandez says: “As part of the mutual aid efforts across the country, we have seen a reminder about the importance of relationships. The more challenging and complex the world becomes, the more we need social connection.
“We were energised by the positive impact that these relationships could continue to have in our communities, and wanted to work with partners to grow and sustain the community spirit arising from the pandemic. We believe this will be essential to address the growing inequalities in our city in the months and years ahead.”
To support this legacy, Oxford Hub received a further grant of £44,700 as part of OCF’s Recover Stronger funding programme. This has enabled them to build on the initial response work by appointing two programme managers to recruit and manage volunteers, and develop the digital infrastructure that enabled the matching and social phone calls services. The project is expanding existing partnerships with Citizens Advice, Home-Start and Age UK Oxfordshire, and is using lessons learnt from the first lockdown as part of the evaluation of Oxford Together to build long-term relationships of all kinds.
OCF’s Grants Panel Chair Laura Chapman says: “The work that the Hub is doing is very impressive; good progress is being made on strengthening the volunteering infrastructure, Phone Links and the Good Neighbour Scheme. Their work has also yielded great insights into the complexity and limited support available for the problems caused by the pandemic, and the developing positive working relationship with the statutory services.”
To mark the year anniversary of Oxford Together, Sara has shared three key lessons from the past year on OCF’s blog. Read her post