Our COVID-19 Response: First Round: How we Faced it Together

Why This Page? A South Brent Case Study

We created and managed a support system and network which worked.  It has, thankfully, so far not being tested to its capabilities but we have confidence it could cope with a severe downturn in fortune.  Given the current positive trends in the locality we have suspended our additional COVID support activity, but we thought it might be helpful for any other community or area looking for ideas to strengthen their preparations for the possible waves to come to see our experience.  We recognise that our community started with some pretty clear advantages: location, size and a history of community support, but we also have a higher proportion of vulnerable individuals and families than the national average, either through age, health or poverty.  Our experience may not work for everyone else, but it might spark some ideas.  In that spirit…this is our story so far…..

For Press Enquiries on this story, please click here.

What we’ve done

South Brent is a large village on the southern edge of Dartmoor. In mid-March 2020, a group of villagers and representatives from local organisations and businesses made a plan to help those self-isolating and experiencing financial hardship in the village and local parishes.

Three volunteers helping with food deliveries and support for isolated people in South Brent
Volunteers support the community in South Brent

This included:

  • Recruiting and organising local volunteers to support community efforts
  • Launching a village crisis food bank for those experiencing financial hardship
  • Fundraising; locally and nationally
  • Two leaflet drops to homes across the village and linked surrounding parishes
  • A prescription collection service, and shopping and takeaway deliveries for those self-isolating
  • A phone befriending service
  • A Facebook group to encourage people to support each other and share information digitally
  • Local counsellors, coaches and therapists have set up a listening service to support individuals’ well-being and mental health
  • ALL of this supported by a plan, a series of online tools and files, and a coordinating group meeting via Zoom weekly

During the 24 weeks that the crisis assist was operational, over 160 volunteers came forward, an emergency community food bank was set up and delivered essentials to those in most need and eventually making 63 deliveries to 16 households supporting 183 individuals.  Volunteers supported our local shops and made over 850 deliveries of shopping, 400 prepared meals from the Pack Horse pub , 48 deliveries of prescriptions from the village chemist and 40 deliveries of much needed hearing aid batteries to those in self-isolation. The phone befriending service made over 1580 calls to those most feeling the loneliness of isolation during the lock down.  The listening service helped behind the scenes and virtual coffee mornings were arranged for the most isolated, including where achievable the introduction ot them, socially distanced and safely, of suitable IT to take part.  Virtual church services have been established for villagers and email bulletins are kept people informed about the changing situation.

Volunteers make essential food deliveries and community donations to the new food bank (centre)

Volunteers make essential food deliveries and community donations to the new food bank (centre)

How we did it

While this may sound like a lot of work (and it did take some thinking about), we were amazed by the number of people who stepped up, and the broad range of valuable skills they offered. The village has its own charity, South Brent and District Caring, which has been operating in the village for six years, and supports elderly and vulnerable people. For some activities we were able to use their structure, resources and contacts to get things underway. You could however use a local council framework.

Virtual calls

Virtual meetings were key. Small breakout groups formed to work on particular areas, for example focusing on the food bank, the systems and admin required, or the delegation and support of volunteers.

Digital systems and data collection

It’s crucial that key players can work from home and access the information they need remotely – and securely.  GDPR regulations are not dormant in a crisis and we were fortunate to have the policies and experience of South Brent & District Caring to lean on.  Use a password-protected file hosting service like Google Drive or Dropbox and be very careful if you’re storing or recording personal information.  If you are, you must have a GDPR-compliant policy which people need to know and sign up to the use of their information within the bounds of that policy.  Have a plan for deletion after the crisis.

Make sure you have a back-up

Inevitably some of those involved might be out of action due to becoming ill, tired or suddenly have to focus on personal issues. Try to make sure everyone has a back-up who knows what they do and how they do it.

Operate safely

All we did was with the goal of helping others, but this must be done safely. Ensure you’re up-to-date with government and NHS advice and if possible involve your local health centre or pharmacy to seek their advice on protecting volunteers and vulnerable people to ensure activities are conducted as safely as possible. We’ve included our safety guidance for volunteers in the documents below.

Communicating under lock down

We had to think about how to let the community know about the support available. Luckily as so many volunteers came forward it was possible to organise a cadre to drop leaflets (above) at houses in the village and surrounding area. We also have a dedicated Facebook group to communicate information and set up a regular email bulletin. It’s important to remember that those who are isolated and vulnerable may not be online, this is also where the volunteer phone befriending service was extremely useful.  This grew from the befriending activities in the village before the crisis.


There are now lots of funds available to support community efforts, your local council might hold a list or be able to point you in the right direction. The local community has also been tremendously supportive of a PayPal Giving Fund campaign (only for charities registered with the Giving Fund – this can take some time to register), or you might choose to set up a crowdfunding campaign, but be aware of their charges.

You can see the final funding results here.

We are most grateful for the funds and volunteer support we have received during this time.

Rainbow with the written message: stay strong

You can do it too; you may already have done it!

We want to share what we’ve learnt, the systems we’ve developed and the documents we’re using. Below we’ve provided a number of example documents that you can use as a template or adapt for your own community response. Download all of them as a zip file at the blue button link below.

Please make sure you adhere to the latest government and NHS guidance, this information will not now be updated unless we change tack or circumstances change considerably.   Obviously we won’t be held responsible for any out-of-date advice on this page and in the generic archive. 


Flow chart showing overview of how support was structured
Overview of the support structure

Explore the community response resource folder

In the G Drive folder above you’ll find a few slides providing more detail about how each of these areas are managed and resourced, including distributing volunteers and managing requests for help. 

(Please note: the forms are “live” within that drive space; if you fill them in while in the drive folder via this link your responses will be recorded and publicly visible.  Additionally, if you choose “download all” the contents will be zipped, which will work for everything except the Google forms, these should be downloaded individually if required)

Volunteer resources

This folder above includes:

  • a sample community flyer for you to edit and use
  • a volunteer card for people to print and pop through a neighbour’s door
  • how to volunteer safely card
  • sample sign up to volunteer form and associated response spreadsheet

General Caring – for those seeking help

  • sample seek help form for people to fill in and associated response spreadsheet

Shopping assistance

We found that local shops were becoming overwhelmed with phone calls requesting home deliveries from people self-isolating. We set up an online form and a dedicated VoIP phone number run by volunteers to administrate these requests and pass them on the the shop by email. Shops then called individuals back to take payment over the phone and packed the order. Volunteers delivered the order safely.

It’s very important to speak to your shops and find out what their challenges are. Some are unable to provide payment over the phone or fulfil deliveries.

  • sample shopping assistance order form, associated response spreadsheet and overview of how the system works.

Food bank

The community crisis and pressure on people’s incomes led a working group to set up a food bank. This is no mean feat! Doing this in the context of COVID-19 provided additional challenges as it was necessary to deliver food and ensure food donations were carefully handled.

  • sample food bank seek help form and associated response spreadsheet.