As the country tentatively takes steps to open up, we are naturally reflecting on the pandemic. Here we detail how our teams have adapted to challenges; determined to continue providing support to those who need it most.  Many of our funders have been flexible and encouraging.

Taking services online

When the pandemic first hit the UK in 2020, the Bromley by Bow Centre team rapidly reconfigured existing support services, training and groups to deliver them online and by phone where possible.  A pre-existing level of digital exclusion in our neighbourhoods, coupled with some language and communication barriers, meant the impact of COVID-19 was disproportionately felt. Each service team had to consider how to provide remote services effectively, how to help some people access computers and virtually train others in basic IT skills; all this in record time.

Arts materials and practical activities were delivered to homes every week by the Centre’s Social Care team and community artists to ensure continuity of support for people with learning difficulties and their carers.

New services were set up and community groups went online and continued to encourage and support residents. Arts and photography courses built skills and helped people make sense of their lockdown experience together. Online Family Playrooms, a group sharing activities for local families, brought much-needed fun and activity with over 560 households participating during 2020.  Recently, online Q&A sessions with clinicians and community members have helped alleviate COVID vaccination concerns.

Support with food provision

Physical space at the Centre and staff support has been provided to assist the Centre’s partner, Bow Foodbank during this unprecedented period. This allowed for the expansion of emergency food services to people shielding. Around 500 adults and 1000 children are supported every week, many of whom have never had to access a food bank before.

A comprehensive service directory with direct contact numbers was published and added to every food parcel to ensure vulnerable people were able to access services and support, particularly during lockdowns.

Increased partnership working

In September, a new bereavement counselling service was introduced, in conjunction with City and East London Bereavement Service (CELBS) to support people coping with grief and bereavement.

Two new specialist Community Connectors, focusing on mental health, joined the Bromley by Bow Social Prescribing Team in November. Their work, supported by the East London Community Foundation Trust, helps people to build resilience, increase confidence and improve their mental health and wellbeing.

Social prescribing rapid response

One of Centre’s most effective responses to COVID-19, was the establishment of a multidisciplinary health and social prescribing team who began to actively reach out to patients. People were identified, using health data and local knowledge, as having additional risk of social and economic vulnerability due to lockdown measures.

People aged 9-90, contacted by phone, required help for essential needs such as emergency food supplies and help with accessing health advice. They also needed reassurance and human connection during a highly anxious time. During the first ten-week period, over 700 calls were made and 512 people were spoken to.

Some changes will be permanent

There is a sense that things will never be quite the same again. Many of the COVID-19 service adaptations have facilitated connection with people in our community we haven’t previously reached. Remote support will continue to form part of our blended service offering as the physical Bromley by Bow Centre begins to reopen again for much-missed face-to-face engagement and human connection.