The stone archway entrance of the Bromley by Bow Centre

The Bromley by Bow Centre and its community: Adapting to COVID-19 for better long-term sustainability

Like all organisations across the country and globally, the Bromley By Bow Centre has been busy adapting to the fast-evolving situation caused by COVID-19. It is at the Centre’s priority to continue serving its community in the best way possible, while ensuring everyone remains safe and healthy.

The spread of the virus is undoubtedly a huge tragedy we all need to unite to fight; but the extreme context of social isolation is also an unprecedented opportunity to shift the way we deliver services to a changing society.

As the government first announced guidelines to work from home where possible and avoid unnecessary social gatherings, the first initiative from our senior leadership was to launch a 24h Challenge. This was organised in an extremely reactive way to encourage all of our staff to think creatively about how services could be adapted to avoid physical contact. All staff members were invited to participate and give ideas about not only their own area of work, but the whole of the Bromley by Bow Centre.

Contingency plans were created for every single service that the Centre provides to the community, to ensure that they continue to be delivered even if in a different form. Lots of new ideas came from this exercise, with some innovative and fun ways to help each other uncovered thanks to organisation-wide thinking.

Social prescribing has been identified as especially crucial in these times of uncertainty – its role in directing community members to new or existing online support groups and activities becoming even more important. Steps are being taken at the Centre to expand our social prescribing capacity and continue to deliver existing training and services.

The key challenges that we’re currently working on are:

  1. How to keep in touch with our community remotely, and support them to access help that is currently most needed, including through the significant expansion of our social prescribing provision, working closely Bromley by Bow Health to reach those identified as the most vulnerable in our community. The accelerated re-design of our comprehensive service programme, which is now being delivered via telephony and on-line channels.
  2. Identifying additional resources to help with the design and delivery of new emergency services, such as food distribution and mutual aid programmes
  3. How can staff stay in touch while working remotely, and support each other as best as possible in challenging times

Creating remote support and activities

Services are being moved online and on the telephone where possible. For example, our Employment & Skills Team has worked to ensure that their projects can continue running via telephone appointments and are now identifying how online platforms could be used too.

Another example of our services adapting can be found in our Street Photography course which is now conducted via Zoom! The photographer delivering the course gave a short lecture on portrait photography during the first Zoom session, and was able to answer attendees’ questions. Assignments were given for the next session, just as would be done normally and participants will be able to share the photos they have taken with each other!

The East Xchange Timebank coffee mornings were also successfully moved online via WhatsApp, with a virtual quiz prepared by participants.

Utilising new and existing online resources

The Bromley by Bow centre has been awarded the status of Gateway Qualification centre. Having an accredited Gateway Qualification enables the Centre to empower its community to achieve qualifications that fits around their needs. Our learning repertoire will expand to provide learning experiences that empower the community through a portfolio of qualifications, ranging from essential digital qualifications to creative industries qualifications!

Getting on with Money is a Bromley by Bow Centre Project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, that helps people manage their money, avoid debt and plan for the future. The project ended last week after 3 years of supporting Tower Hamlets residents with their finances, through 1:1 support, money management workshops and volunteer led activities. As part of the project, our volunteers developed the idea of ‘Feast for a Fiver’, to show people that it was possible to feed a family of four with £5 or less. This is available now online here, and is more than useful in these challenging times when grocery shopping can be tricky!

Ensuring connectivity and communication amongst staff

It is crucial that our staff members stay connected and keep supporting each other as they would normally do. It is particularly challenging to keep in touch in meaningful ways when we can’t see each other physically, but we’ve started implementing a few new things to help us cope with the physical distance! A live all-staff update and Q&A was run through Microsoft Teams, as a trial to gather staff in the same place to discuss and keep up-to-date with each other. More than 50 staff members attended the session, and were able to ask management their questions through the chat function. Regular updates are being shared with everyone to avoid any staff feeling isolated, and WhatsApp groups are being created for non-work related social activities such as walking and running!

If you have any other ideas on how to cope with the current lockdown situation, how to stay connected and keep supporting the community, or if you want to hear more about what the Bromley by Bow Centre is doing to adapt please do get in touch!