Edlington Community Organisation share the importance of community, food and tea during times of crisis

30 September 2020

Samantha Siddall, Centre Manager at Edlington Community Organisation (ECO), has been working with her team of volunteers to do whatever they can to help the people they support during the pandemic, supplying everything from much-needed food supplies and all-important teabags via their ‘survival bags’ to hearing aid batteries and even crossword puzzles. “Food plays a major role in supporting people’s health and wellbeing so by providing access to food, we are relieving the pressure on our already strained community.”

Edlington Community Organisation (ECO) is a community charity based at Yorkshire Main Community Centre in Edlington. Their projects include social activities that take place within the main hall and structured support services including employment, training and benefits advice. Their main project centres around providing food to disadvantaged people in the form of emergency food parcels, a community cupboard scheme, free breakfast clubs for children and meals alongside family activities during school holidays.

The pandemic has had a big impact on the organisation, as in March they were forced to close the  community centre hub. This dramatically reduced their income from loss of hall hire fees and meant  95% their activities suddenly ceased.

However, the organisation was swift to adapt to its new circumstances. “As many organisations were closing or furloughing their staff, we still had a duty to our community to provide essential services, so we created a taskforce of key staff and volunteers to work from the building and adapt our delivery to support people during the pandemic,” Samantha explains.

Tackling community issues

Emergency food provision was ECO’s initial priority, supporting those on low incomes as a result of the pandemic, as well as people who are self-isolating and can’t access to daily staples.

“With full bellies comes positives attitudes and general improvements in wellbeing. In addition, we also support people through our befriending scheme and keeping households entertained with free activity packs for children and the elderly.”

The organisation distributes hearing aid batteries following the closure of local libraries and centres who would usually offer this service and also offer free slippers to over 50’s.

“As the elderly are spending more time at home, they are likely to be wearing slippers over other forms of footwear so these are provided to help people avoid slips and falls in the home due to worn or ill-fitting footwear.”

Assessing priorities and working with FareShare

The initial priority was sourcing the volume of food required to help the people in need. FareShare Yorkshire came to the rescue and to this day continue to supply ECO with the necessary volumes of food.

“If it wasn’t for them, we have no idea how we would have coped.”

The next issue to resolve was finding storage facilities to accommodate additional food and support to distribute this quickly and effectively. Additional fridges and freezers had to be purchased to accommodate extra chilled food.

“To maintain a safe working environment for staff and volunteers we had to limit the number of people within the building which came with its disadvantages as our volunteer numbers greatly reduced. Many of our volunteers also came under the vulnerable category so had to self-isolate which meant we were not only supporting the wider community but our own team with less help.”

The thought of job losses was a concern too but the organisation was fortunate to have received help from a number of grants to retain all staff.

The importance of tea in a crisis…

“Tea and refreshments are always requested; they are a cupboard staple and used daily by the whole household.” With the support from Taylor’s ECO have managed to give everyone who has accessed food support a generous portion of tea.

“The higher end priced tea has been put into survival bags for adults, complemented with free chocolates, crosswords and a few words of encouragement to give people a little lift and smile during these difficult times.

Last but by no means least, the teabags have also kept our volunteers going. There’s nothing better than taking 5 minutes out of a busy schedule for a good cuppa and biscuit.”