It was after five weeks of lockdown that Ryan Child‘s feet only just touched the ground and he was able to take stock. He’s using that opportunity to think about the future. Ryan is Events Manager at Westbury Town Council and has been part of the team responding to the coronavirus emergency.
What people need
“Since the Tuesday after Boris Johnson said we are going to lock it down, there has been a couple of us in the council office who didn’t have a day off for weeks. We were trying to work out how we make sure everybody gets what they need, what is it that they actually need and when are they going to need it.
“It’s been quite exciting, it’s been tragic at times… it’s been everything really,” he said.
Web of relationships
Ryan had been involved in the work of community led group POPCAN using C2 principles for the last two years, led by Sovereign Housing’s Community Development Officer and C2 trustee, Scott Jacobs-Lange. This has been so successful that Ryan, with council backing, began building a much wider web of relationships to create Open Westbury to spread the approach to the whole town, cemented by a very successful launch event in late February.
“Then suddenly this crisis happened and it’s turbocharged those relationships,” said Ryan.
“I was given a lot of good information early from people who were proactive in the community. It definitely allowed us to be on the front foot having Open Westbury, which then led us to delivering food boxes to residents within three days. It was a new situation for us, the council, becoming a green grocer, but it was helped massively by the fact we had some residents who were assisting and feeding into it straight away. POPCAN, Sam and Tina, were a big part of that.
“After the first week, Scott Jacobs-Lange was influential in getting a meeting set up.”
The meeting included representatives from partners: Ryan from Westbury Town Council; Wiltshire County Council; the clergy; social prescribers from the local surgery plus the head nurse; Scott from Sovereign Housing; Sam and Tina from POPCAN; and Westbury and District Link Scheme team – a volunteer taxi service with 400 elderly people on their database.
“We all got together and asked what are the problems we’ve got in Westbury? The best thing about it was the GDPR problem was solved. The beauty was to have a common template of what we were going to do.”
That involved the hospital, Westbury Link Scheme and the clergy contacting people themselves and using that information to help inform the council’s approach. It was a collective response that smoothed out the efficient delivery of food and protection for the vulnerable.
“We had that conversation early, which got rid of so many of the issues that would have been there,” said Ryan. “I’m very keen for these conversations to continue once this has finished so we can push forward with improving the town in different ways, because this is so productive. And it’s effective. The proof is in the pudding, really.”
Would the momentum continue?
“I hope so,” said Ryan. “It would be a tragedy if it didn’t and we don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I do know that this week has been less reactionary. My thought process at the moment is, we probably need to start being the catalyst for this momentum.”
They have had more volunteers than they have been able to use. And Ryan’s keen to harness that goodwill, knowledge, skills and resource. He calls it ‘re-bringing out those Open Westbury things’, using the community resource to bear on community-identified projects.
“We’re lucky in Westbury, it’s not top-down,” said Ryan. “It’s not like we’re going ‘everyone if you are bored, can somebody design a fence for the municipal swimming pool?’. It’s already been at the beginning of a bottom-up process. Uppermost In my mind at the moment, is to ensure it continues.”
It comes at a time when Ryan is finally managing to take stock. It has been pretty full-on. “You worry that you may have missed something or think about the next day’s problem or how it might change,” he said. But it’s not been without its highlights.
The community together
“The community together has been extremely proactive and it’s been great to see volunteers coming forward. We’ve got a family who delivers food boxes on a Friday. One of the reasons they do it is because their young lad nods off as they drive around in the car! Stories like that have been nice, to see people acting on the front foot and getting on with things, helping other people and making an effort with their neighbours.
“For myself, it’s been nice to chat. We’ve got a common issue to talk about. A lot of people have come together with a commonality. I think that’s probably been the most positive thing.”
top images from the Open Westbury launch event.