It takes a village to raise a child, goes the old saying. And what we’re increasingly seeing is it takes a community to care for a community. All you need to do is create the right environment and the community looks out for, supports and cares for itself. It’s easier said than done, but one place where that is evident is through the Crafty Fox in Paignton.
The activity around the Crafty Fox in Paignton, Devon, shows just how active, resourceful and supportive the whole community can be. It’s often called community spirit, but the essence goes deeper – it’s more like community care.
“They’ve had to adapt and they seem to just do it. It’s like second nature. It seems that they are so attuned with their community, and they’ve to know their community so well, it just comes naturally. People trust them,” Nina Cooper, a Community Builder at Torbay Community Development Trust, who works with the Crafty Fox, told C2.
“As they adapted from a café to supporting the community as a food bank, everyone realised that the core group of volunteers were going to have to shield for various reasons and were unable to come out and volunteer.
“Others who usually came to the café to be supported by the volunteers for their own various issues, stepped forward asking ‘what can we do’ so the people usually receiving help, started to help others and saying it really felt good by being able to contribute,” said Nina.
It’s a care that comes from seeing someone in need, and helping to provide a solution. Simple things. A sign on the door that says they are a foodbank but available for a chat, or proving a sit down. Four doors down from the Crafty Fox is the local pharmacy. During the lockdown, there were long queues. So the team at the Crafty Fox provided chairs: simple; thoughtful; attuned.
The weekly knitting group hasn’t turned to Zoom or gone online. Instead, the organiser has become a volunteer (plenty of the usual volunteers are shielding) and receives a knock on the door from others of the group when they know she’s at the Crafty Fox working on the food bank there.
It’s the little things that can mean so much more. That tie people together.
When people deliver food parcels they stay and chat, at a safe distance, if the person wants to. Through one of those conversations it came out that there was a loophole in the system of providing children with food vouchers.
“The system had forgotten about excluded children,” said Nina. That information was fed back and corrected within days, but without the time spent building relationships and talking, that massive hole may not have come to light.
“It made a lot of difference to a lot of families’ lives,” said Nina.
Because of the all the things they were doing at the Crafty Fox and know all the things that were going on in Torbay, the members of the community who were volunteering could signpost people and any issues that arose.
“They picked up on someone who was a bit low. So three or four people made it their business to phone that person over the next few days. It picked them up straight away because they were known, they weren’t strangers ringing they were known as volunteers at the cafe,” said Nina.
One of the original voices advocating for the Crafty Fox, who is housebound, rings around 8 people at least once a week. She usually spends around 18 hours a week talking to others who would be completely isolated.
“She’s been brilliant,” said Nina. “She would phone up the Crafty Fox or myself if she was particularly worried about something to do with somebody. It’s people like her who discover that a person has run out of food or they’ve been struggling with getting their medication, or they don’t know how to get their money.”
Bridging the gap
They also bridged that gap between those who don’t usually use food banks or services and being in new-found need.
“You have to have those conversations,” said Nina. “Ask ‘how are you doing?’ Sometimes come straight out with it.
“We realised, there’s a lot of people struggling to get their pension money. They didn’t want to leave the house – they were too scared- and they didn’t feel they could trust somebody else with their card. We would ask what are you doing then.” Often the people would just have enough for a few days, so the Crafty Fox community would get food to them.
“They’re those sort of people who don’t speak out and wouldn’t go to a food bank,” said Nina. “Often they are quite housebound anyway. They often don’t have the network that maybe some other people have. The Crafty Fox has been able to reach to those as well.”
The community care continued with the sharing of the government’s own food boxes, with redistribution. And also with the sharing of community information with the local GP surgery, like the Torbay sunflower trail.
“It’s not just sharing information about food and health but also things to do,” said Nina.
Services ‘disappeared’ during the Covid-19 crisis. But it was the trust built up over time that allowed the Crafty Fox to shape the community’s care response.
“Since the community has stepped up and started doing things, people have got more trust in the community delivering because it actually happens,” said Nina.
“People would engage with the Crafty Fox who haven’t engaged in the services for years, for whatever reason – it could be that they’ve completely lost trust in them. Or they’re frightened of them. The guys at the Crafty Fox have overcome that worry and they don’t have that same fear of them.”
And yet, despite the doing, the connecting, the filling the gaps and the care that’s readily available, services tend to look down on the voluntary sector and on the community. A community that survived during a crisis when the services may have been lacking.
“The voluntary sector in Covid have been more capable than the services and they’ve proven that. And maybe the wider community has woken up and thought our voluntary sector has been brilliant looking at what everybody’s done. And wondering where the services are,” said Nina.
The work of the Crafty Fox has not gone unnoticed.
“They’ve had lots of different faces turn up and donate to the food bank, or put some money in the pot,” said Nina. “People that they’ve never see before are starting to link in and actually realise the work the Crafty Fox does.”
During the crisis, the emergency physical need seems to have evolved into a lot of psychological need.
“It’s opened people’s eyes, and there are lots of conversations about understanding how loneliness feels, how isolation feels. People needing mental health services are starting to come out now and they are struggling to find the help.
“I know that the Craft Fox has had to deal with pretty heavy stuff. Conversations on the phone and people are talking about how they are feeling and it’s affected those volunteers as well. And they have had trouble finding places to refer them to.
“The communities are setting up and doing stuff, they know that they do need services there. There are needs the community can meet, but there are certain things they need help with.
“The community has been sensible but they haven’t got the boundaries or the bureaucracy that stops them doing things. Whereas the services have got those barriers that stop them, sometimes when things need doing. “