The coronavirus crisis has highlighted many things to be addressed in order to bridge the divide between Bristol’s communities, says the boss of Knowle West Health Park.
A coordinated effort has seen people in the south Bristol neighbourhood rally together to tackle issues such as digital inclusion, sharing resources, providing a support network, delivering essential food supplies, combating loneliness and doing their bit to help provide vital protective equipment for NHS staff.
Support for the Knowle West area has been coordinated by the Knowle West Alliance, which was formed in 2019 by founder members The Park Community Centre, Knowle West Health Park and Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC). All three are members of Locality, which is working alongside community groups in responding to the current crisis.
A specialist hub has been established in the health park in response to the pandemic. It has taken 110 referrals from the Bristol City Council’s hotline in the last three weeks and the number of people in need of help continues to grow, with members of the alliance responding to hundreds of calls for support from their own users.
Commenting on the community response to the coronavirus outbreak, Heather Williams, the chief executive of Knowle West Health Park, says: “We are in a space of flux that gives us steep learning curves that inform and change our processes daily. However, we have been flexible and because of the Knowle West Alliance, we have an excellent hub in place that is locally based and meeting the needs of everyone who we are in touch with.”
She adds: “The community is brilliant at supporting itself, but this crisis has highlighted that there are many things that can no longer be allowed to be seen as normal if we want to stop the divide between communities across the city. There will much to learn after this pandemic subsides about the skills in the community, the benefit of partnership and the gaps that need to be addressed.”
The south Bristol community is an area of multiple deprivation where there are a high number of vulnerable adults and elderly residents, many of whom live on their own, and this poses challenges in terms of reaching everyone during the crisis.
Read more: Creating positive change in Knowle West
At a time when communication is key, KWMC has been working alongside the alliance to make sure that local people – particularly those who are isolated or vulnerable – can stay connected to others and access reliable information and advice.
As many people may be accessing computers and tablets for the first time to keep in touch with friends and relatives, KWMC teams have made a series of tutorial videos to help people navigate websites and digital meeting tools they might not be familiar with.
Director Carolyn Hassan says: “We are really concerned about the impact of people not having access to the internet or digital devices at home, or the confidence to be able to use the digital tools that people are relying on to stay in touch. It’s more important than ever that everyone has the skills to be able to connect, learn and access information digitally.
“Our team is keen to use this period to reflect on our learning – from the brilliant way the community has come together through volunteering to the things that haven’t worked as well – to help us plan what we can most usefully do to support the community in the future.”
The digital arts organisation has also adapted its programme to offer a range of online activities and support.
This includes sharing free resources to help young people, families and adults keep learning, making and creating while at home – such as worksheets, video tutorials and links to free software. The activities have been designed to ensure that learning is practical, fun and not solely screen-based.
They are also bringing people together digitally in regular online meet-ups, such as support sessions for artists and makers – many of whom have had work and projects impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
The team at KWMC: The Factory, based in Filwood Green Business Park, have used 3D printers to produce 150 face-shields for local pharmacies, care homes and GPs. They are liaising with other organisations and planning to produce more.
The team is also keen to ensure that residents’ voices are heard in discussions about the impact of coronavirus in the area and has created a series of podcast conversations where residents and organisations can share their perspectives. Two episodes have been released so far and more are planned.