A Borders community’s solution to ensure community resilience

Fri, 17/04/2020 - 14:52pm

The responses to the recent email from SRA has revealed that around Scotland there are a wide variety of so called “co-ordinating anchors” looking after their communities during the period of lockdown imposed on us because of COVID-19.  I thought it may prove useful if I let you know what’s going on here in the Scottish Borders.

Before the Government announced the total lockdown it was becoming quite apparent that COVID-19 was going to really test the strength our community resilience.

As I am sure you are aware, a Community Council is set up by statute by the local authority and run by local residents who care about their community and want to make it a better place to live. As the most local tier of elected representation a CC will play an important role in local democracy.

Our community lies in the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys, both stretch about 26 miles south-west of Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. We are very rural, farming based, with very few settlements over a handful of houses.  Fortunately our community council is quite active and had an established team of resilience volunteers set up years ago by the Scottish Borders Council under the umbrella of our community council, so as CC Chair I contacted them and our CC members to see what we were doing to ensure we have the ability to contact every household, especially those who do not have internet access. I also asked what we could do to plan for shopping and medicine deliveries.

The response was encouraging and we agreed that the best way forward was to arrange for a list of local volunteer contacts and identify every household that was likely to be in need and ensure they knew who to contact for help. We had four local resilience co-ordinators, two in each valley.  However, some parts of our valleys have very scattered populations, so we made swift arrangements to add an additional 3 local reliance co-ordinators into the mix.

It became clear early on that asking volunteers to shop for other people was potentially problematic, given the item limits that supermarkets were imposing.  It was also clear that supermarket delivery slots were just not available.

For these reasons, our brilliant and persuasive CC secretary contacted key local shops, Selkirk being our nearest town, to see if they would be willing to deliver to the valleys; she also arranged for the local halls to be the drop-off points for deliveries. From these points locals could collect at set times, or indeed arrange for a neighbour to collect. For those who cannot collect our community electric vehicle will deliver or the local resilience co-ordinator would make onward delivery arrangements.

Volunteer delivering food parcel
One of our volunteers delivering to a remote valley resident

A weekly delivery system has been established.  However, the system to collect orders and arrange for payment proved a bit of a problem initially. The butcher decided to take telephone orders.  He initially offered payment by bank transfer, but quickly made arrangements to be able to take credit card payments as well.  The Bakers had never delivered before, but made an overnight decision to do so and offer a standard ‘lockdown pack’ to which people could add extra items.  Payment to the Baker could be by bank transfer or cash (which is collected by the Baker when delivering the following weeks orders). The Greengrocer was so busy that our secretary offered to take the orders on his behalf, incorporating a security reference number into the system to combat any potential scamming activity

As it transpired the Selkirk fruit and veg shop could not cope with the 80+ orders received in the first week so the owner of a local inn which had closed due to the Covid restrictions contacted their supplier who was delighted to take orders for boxes of set quantities; the money was collected by the Innkeeper and passed on to the supplier.  Deliveries to our hubs was done by the Innkeeper.

We then set about sorting out milk supplies.  One of our villages is supplied by a local resident who works in a cash and carry, while the remainder of that valley can access fresh milk at a caravan park shop, which has remained open.  A milkman was approached to consider delivering milk to households in the other valley.

Prescriptions and medicines proved to be another problem. There are two chemists in Selkirk and both of them offered a delivery service, but not to the upper reaches of both the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys. However, they both agreed to post prescriptions where possible, but cannot do this for controlled drugs or fridge items, and have now extended their deliveries further up the valleys.

Having sorted out food and medication supplies, we then turned our attention to combatting isolation and promoting mental well-being.  An individual who normally runs a monthly pub quiz is now running a weekly quiz using ‘Zoom’. One of the positive spin offs of the Covid crisis has been that people have learned to video conference using WhatsApp and other methods, so people from four different households can form a digi team and take part in the weekly quiz.  A local family of talented musicians have held an afternoon open-air concert and ceilidh in one of our villages.  Their excellent sound system, and helpful location at the top of the hill meant that the whole village could enjoy this – even doing ceilidh dances in a socially isolated way, as you can see below!

Street dancing at Ettrickbridge
Socially isolated ceilidh dancing
Statue of James Hogg
The statue of James Hogg overlooking Tibbie Shiels Inn

An article detailing what we had done to ensure adequate supplies and who to contact was placed in our local church magazine, Key Notes, which is normally put through every door. However, due to the coronavirus situation an electronic version was distributed via our local and CC email lists. Knowing that we could not cover every household this way we asked neighbours to ensure a copy was printed and delivered to those “off grid”.

Our valleys are also “served” by two Facebook pages; the Ettrick Yarrow Valleys is the prime page and contains posts of news and events that will never be removed, and the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys page is used for social chit chat but all items posted on the prime page are copied to the chit chat page. The beauty of this system, which was set up about 8 years ago, is that we can always find anything recent as it will not “fall off” the page. We copied everything we had organised on our Facebook pages in addition to it being posted via our email lists.

As regards funding, we made it quite clear at the outset that all volunteers will not be out of pocket by helping the community. In that respect we knew the CC had some reserve funds because we had a small sum given to us by the Scottish Borders Council to cover our running costs, but we also had an additional sum from the local wind farm community benefit.  This will cover all mileage costs, costs associated with the shopping delivery ordering and safe collection systems and the cost of charging up the community electric vehicle. In addition to this the SBC granted every CC with £1,000 initially and promised more if needs be.

In summary I list below some of the things that we did:

  • Establish which household is in need.
  • Establish which household is “off grid”.
  • Establish and distribute a list of local resilience co-ordinators contacts.
  • Speak to key local suppliers to see if they could and would deliver to the valleys.
  • Arrange a delivery system from the suppliers.
  • Arrange an ordering and payment system.
  • Arrange a pick-up and delivery system.
  • Ensure volunteers have expenses paid for.
  • Introduce activities to help combat social isolation.
  • Ensure adequate funding.

I hope this gives you an inkling of what we did to help ensure the resilience of our community and perhaps provide you with some ideas for your community.

It would be good to hear what things you have done so please feel free to share your experiences.

Gordon Harrison

Gordon Harrison

Director of SRA and the Ettrick and Yarrow Development Co. Chair of Ettrick and Yarrow Community Council Member of the Borders LEADER LAG for the 2014-2020 period. Gordon is fully committed to supporting rural life, rural communities and the rural economy.

Read more about Gordon Harrison