We are now 2 weeks into lockdown number 2 and communities and volunteers across Exeter have not missed a beat.

What’s going on?

The Exeter Community Wellbeing hotline (01392 265000, Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm) has been active ever since 23 March but prepared for higher call volumes at the announcement of the second nationwide lockdown. There have indeed been more people getting in touch for support, especially people who are ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’, but nowhere near as many as in March.

We reckon this is due to a few different reasons, but one big one is that community support networks, volunteer groups and friendships that grew out of the first lockdown are so strong and so smooth now that people very easily slid into action with barely a second thought. A lot of people who felt they could do with some extra support already knew where to find it in their own streets and neighbourhoods, and those Local Area Teams, as we came to call them, knew exactly what they were doing, who to get in touch with and how, and seamlessly switched up a gear.

Exeter Community Wellbeing partners

The Wellbeing Exeter Community Builders and Community Physical Activity Organisers (CPAOs) are busy bees (though heading into December the bees are nowhere to be seen; perhaps, busy squirrels?) and continue to be a powerful connection between community members and all the local provisions, offers, activities and groups.

The CPAOs have had their work cut out for them with all these changing restrictions, but one thing that hasn’t changed in government guidance – or our common knowledge – is that getting outdoors for some fresh air and a bit of exercise can have an enormous effect on our physical and mental health. With quite a lot of green spaces and footpaths in Exeter, there’s plenty of opportunity for a stroll under the sleeping autumn trees or something a bit more vigorous if you’d like!

You can check out the Wellbeing Exeter Community Builders Facebook page to get connected up with one of the team and chat about what you can access in your area, whether that’s a new walking route, a virtual knit and natter or community food and supplies.

Some of the key themes we’re hearing from Community Builders about are mental health and food provision across the city. There are lots of opportunities all over Exeter but it’s sometimes difficult to find out what’s going on nearby. Whatever it is you need to find or find out, a good first call is to your Community Builder. If you’re looking for support for basics like food, prescriptions drop offs or anything else that you don’t have provision in place for at the moment, get in touch with Exeter Community Wellbeing on 01392 265000. The lovely people waiting on the end of the lines are very good at their job and will be able to help you themselves by arranging the support you’re after, or put you in touch with the best person for you.

Looking after ourselves

It’s really important, because of lockdown take 2 and also because of the fast approaching winter weather, that we all focus on staying connected and active (physically, mentally and socially – at a distance!) over the coming months. This keeps our bodies, minds and spirits in a calm and happy place, ready to overcome whatever challenges we come across.

Ebbie Peters, Community Builder for the Pennsylvania area, puts it perfectly: “It’s a really tough time, but you don’t have to go this alone. There are still so many safe ways we can reach out to friends, family and neighbours, and the past few months have shown that we can still come together as a community, even when we’re apart.”

Some of the ways communities are coming together are by organising Advent window trails, little free libraries, litter picks, increased volunteering and even delivery services for local free food kitchens such as the Hot Food Project, community larders and virtual coffee and chat groups.

It’s quite nice having a Zoom get-together, no need to spend any money and you can ‘e-meet’ several people from the comfort of your own home. You don’t even need to tidy up, just choose a clear wall for a backdrop to your camera! We do like to get dressed up nicely for the occasion sometimes, though. If for any reason you don’t have the technology or skills to access local virtual chats, your Community Builder may be able to suggest a solution.

Community food and resources

Of course, there are also opportunities to see friendly faces (we’re getting used to seeing smiling eyes over masks now, aren’t we?) if you volunteer at or visit a community larder. Someone who used St. Katherine’s Priory Community Larder recently said:

“I have just been and collected a bag of goodies from you and I wanted to say how thankful I am! I wasn’t expecting anything like what I received! Me and partner are both self employed and our work has more than halved so this collection is really going to take the pressure off a little! Meaning there is a little extra money for bills! It is such an excellent thing you and the team are doing for the community and stopping the food going to landfill is a huge bonus! Thank you all again!”

The project has seen 42 volunteers getting involved sometimes more than once a week. Some of the visitors show their appreciation by baking cakes for the team. A spokesperson for the Community Larder said, “This initiative has only been possible through the hard work, enthusiasm and support of many individuals and organisations. This has been, and continues to be, an incredibly valuable facility in our local community.”

The Pinhoe Community Support group continue to be very active. Their Little Greenhouse has become a favourite community resource, as well as their more recent wool kits, which the group are circulating as part of ‘Christmas Parcels for Pinhoe’ (see the photos below). These contain hand knitted stockings and are decorated with handmade stars. Some 200 parcels will be delivered by volunteers to their neighbours across the Pinhoe area in time for Christmas.

The most valuable resources of any community are the people in it. We all have ups and downs, we all have different skills and requirements, we all have different ideas and ways of doing things. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, and after the *interesting* year we’ve all had so far, we are resilient as a collective.

If you’re struggling, reach out. There are many, many wonderful people around you who care and want to offer their support. Because it goes around in circles, doesn’t it? Like birds in flight taking turns to lead the flock or rest in the slipstream, we can move forward far more effectively, and joyfully, as a community.

Did we mention how proud we are of everyone?


Exeter Community Wellbeing Hotline


To request support, as an individual or a community group, get in touch with Exeter Community Wellbeing:

Phone: 01392 265000

Lines open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm

https://exeter.gov.uk/wellbeing/

Exeter Community Wellbeing is co-ordinated by a team including Wellbeing Exeter partners, Devon Community Foundation, Exeter Community Initiatives and Exeter City Council. Funding partners include Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and Sport England.