Volunteering during COVID-19 – the work of Vennture

Comment Features Science and Technology

COVID-19 poses a unique challenge to the lives of all people, but the effect on each individual is not the same. Cohorts with existing vulnerabilities are affected by the symptoms of the disease, but perhaps more so by the measures put in place to ‘stop the spread’ and ‘flatten the curve’. Rough sleepers, people in domestic violence relationships and prison releases are all denied their usual support networks by the lockdown, and this could have disastrous consequences.

Usually, during vacations, I work for Herefordshire Vennture, a Christian charity which operates the Street Pastor presence in the city of Hereford as well as working with troubled families and individuals in the county as a whole. As part of the local authority’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Vennture is working with the Building Resistance Against Endemic Vulnerabilities (BRAVE) group to provide support to the two percent of the population that fall into the vulnerable groups who will find the lockdown especially difficult. We aim to: provide practical social, emotional and pastoral support; prevent unnecessary demand on already stretched services; and develop and deploy well-trained volunteers, all whilst maintaining the highest levels of safe working and safeguarding, especially in light of social distancing measures.

Rough sleepers, people in domestic violence relationships and prison releases are all denied their usual support networks by the lockdown, and this could have disastrous consequences.

Thus far, the work has focused on rough sleepers. The complex needs of this group extend beyond their myriad health conditions, to the intricate needs of addiction management. We have been able to implement a modified version of the PROTECT and CARE plan that I first learned about through Tony Kirby’s article ‘Efforts escalate to protect homeless people from COVID-19 in UK’ in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. This scheme requires triage of the individuals based on underlying health conditions (much like the shielding of other individuals with the community) and COVID-19 symptomatic status. Individuals that are low risk and asymptomatic have been given accommodation and are expected to social distance as the rest of the population. High-risk asymptomatic individuals fall into the COVID-PROTECT group. These individuals required greater support in their accommodation and are similar to the shield group within the general population. These individuals should not be leaving their rooms, and are being provided with food and planning for laundry services is ongoing. The final group is COVID-CARE; individuals with the virus. Fortunately, no-one yet has fallen into this group in Herefordshire.

The complex needs of rough sleepers extend beyond their myriad health conditions, to the intricate needs of addiction management.

The support we are offering is twofold: managing medical need by providing services to allow individuals to isolate and managing social need through the provision of phone buddies. By collecting a comprehensive medical history, we have been able to put together ‘This could save your life’ cards’ (A5 sized cards containing name, date of birth, pertinent medical history, and emergency contact information) to be used in the event of an ambulance call where the individual is not well enough to explain their symptoms. Volunteer safe and well phone buddies have been paired with each individual, to provide a friendly ear to listen and check for COVID-19 symptoms over the phone. This has been well received by many individuals as it is for many of them their only contact outside of the rough sleeping cohort. So far, these conversations have helped two individual to join the Building Better Opportunities (BBO) programme, designed to help individuals into work.

Moving forward, we hope to shift our focus to other groups with endemic vulnerabilities using the basic process developed for rough sleeping individuals in terms of sign up and project management. This should allow us to move quickly and get to the individuals of greatest need.

COVID-19 is a desperately sad situation, but I hope that it will bring the needs of vulnerable groups to the fore and allow us to build a legacy of support and care. The long-term aim is to make rough sleeping rare, infrequent, and non-recurring.

Image credit: Richard Weaver Photography for Vennture