Local charity Disability Partnership Calderdale (DPC) has just experienced its busiest ever month, helping the area’s vulnerable and disabled people cope with the Coronavirus outbreak and resultant lockdown.
The organisation has three part-time employees, thanks to a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund, plus ten volunteer trustees, all of whom have disabilities. It also has over 300 members spread across Calderdale.
When lockdown came in late March, the organisation set about identifying how best to help its members and other vulnerable people. It quickly became clear that, with many disabled people identified as extremely vulnerable to the Coronavirus, self-isolation was a priority for them.
This meant that food shopping, in particular, and other crucial day-to-day activities, like collecting medicines, were impossible to undertake safely. For many disabled people, the stark reality was that, unless they could quickly get help from friends and family, they would either run out of food and medicine, or face high-risk contact with other people in shops and supermarkets.
Disability Partnership Calderdale quickly developed a multi-stranded response to the situation. Firstly, they set about identifying food outlets that were delivering groceries and created an online directory of them. They also trawled social media for details of the many volunteer groups that were popping up around Calderdale as lockdown became a reality. They then collated and shared their details online.
Secondly, with an additional grant from the Community Foundation For Calderdale (CFFC), Disability Partnership Calderdale upped the frequency of their newsletters from monthly to weekly, with both emailed and posted options ensuring that their members had access to crucial information, whether they had internet access or not.
Thirdly, the organisation worked alongside other voluntary sector bodies to help Calderdale Council develop their response to the crisis. Bringing their expert knowledge of the needs of disabled people to the table, they were able to provide unique insights into the needs of people who were not only extremely vulnerable, but also, in many cases, isolated from the rest of society and often not able to access the internet.
For the organisation’s Chair, Marion Spruce, who is herself registered blind, the last four weeks have been both challenging and inspiring:
“Disability Partnership Calderdale has never been busier. Our three part time workers have all been working round the clock, gathering information, collating government, council and NHS advice and passing it on to our members and other vulnerable people. All our trustees have supported this process and helped liaise with the council and local councillors and politicians.
“We’ve seen a ten-fold increase in traffic on our website, with the food delivery directory getting hundreds of visits a day. And we’ve been stuffing envelopes with newsletters, as well as answering numerous enquiries from worried people. It’s been a real team effort. But I’d also say that it’s been a great team effort with the Council, who have done an excellent job setting up support networks, and with other local charities and the many individuals who have volunteered to help vulnerable people.
“Above all else, the thing that has struck me the most, is the speed with which the situation has moved and continues to move. Small organisations, like ourselves, were well placed to help in the initial days of the crisis. We’ve had to be flexible and totally change what we normally do – which is to hold meetings and get together with other disabled people – and become a completely different organisation, focused on gathering and sharing advice, plus liaison work with local authorities and other charities. It’s been very challenging and it looks like remaining so for the foreseeable future. But I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and also of what the community of Calderdale and the Council have achieved in a very short period of time.”