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Maybe There Is More Hope

Someone in my building put up a notice in the foyer saying that it's the anniversary of her son’s death coming up and she can't go to the graveyard because of the virus, so she wanted to build a little garden memorial on her balcony, with her two little girls.

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I’m currently a student Social Worker, aged 28. Hopefully I’m just finishing up, I’m looking to start work properly in July. I was placed in the Council in Children and Adolescent Mental Health but as soon as Lockdown hit, Brookes pulled me out immediately, which is one of the reasons I’ve had so much time to do this. It was pretty obvious from the start that there were going to be increased problems for the most vulnerable in our community, so I was kind of watching what was going on. I think I first signed up to all the less formal groups, like Mutual Aid, and about the same time I got involved with Oxford Together.

The Hub gets all the information of the people who have been referred for practical support, and they then match them to volunteers in their area. They have a map and they know that I’m here, so everyone I’ve been matched with has essentially been within close distance of my home. It works really well. It’s also good because a lot of people are in their eighty-plus-es and, you know, living alone and I think they're more likely to be receptive to help from people who are essentially their neighbours. I think it's a good way to facilitate trust, which is really nice.

Basically I keep up to date with the individuals - I will phone them to ask if they're OK, what they need etcetera, and any time in between they can phone up about any other practical support they need. If we think any of the individuals are in crisis or are in particular vulnerable states, I’ve done a number of referrals to Oxford Together phone support service. They will phone them up daily, or whenever they want, and just kind of talk with them and give them companionship, which is also really important.

I’ve been bringing my partner along on the trips to pick up food and deliver it. We’re literally going in with a shopping list that they've put together, getting exactly what they want and getting it back to them, as well as prescriptions as well. There was one semi-emergency case where a family had essentially run out of food, and I was delivering food at 10pm, which was quite surprising for my partner, but so far it’s been a good experience.

This is what I’ve been training for, for years. In a sense it's actually much less complicated than what a Social Worker generally would do. The work itself is really similar to what I’ve been doing anyway. I’ve worked with an over 60’s social club where I’d drive around in the van in the morning picking them up from their homes and taking them to the social club. For me, it's not weird to knock on random people’s doors and talk to them, that's the job, so the only difference really is that I can't go in and have a cup of tea with them which is sad because people are very, very, very lonely. Half my training has been in the elderly and half in children’s mental health, which has given me hopefully a bit more insight into how people cope with this sort of thing. I’ve been placed in various locations in Oxford, but I’ve never really worked with my neighbours, and it’s been interesting to get to know my local community.

I think community is really hard to develop in society, particularly Oxford where housing is really insecure. I think the problem people feel in our current socio-economic climate is essentially hopelessness and disconnection, right? And this is a simple way to reconnect people. I think a lot will change for some people, and even if everything did go back to completely the way it was, at least people would know that there are people for them in an emergency.

I really don't like how in our society the vast majority of the population are completely blind to the problems of the other half, so I think it's good if we can all get a bit more consciousness. Then you could say that, Ok this family has a number of children and maybe a parent who is unable to work, who are in hardship, and we could come together and do something to help alongside any statutory help. If you improve the consciousness of the people who are in contact with a person, they no longer view that person as sub-human, right? Which is pretty much the impression I get from a lot of people I meet - they so do not understand the world in which these people live. Maybe then a lot of the population would stop blaming people with no money and no power for their problems.

I mean I think it's highlighting what we need is community groups, right? And now we’ve street champions for different areas and we’ve got someone who is managing those street champions, that's great. What we need is like, community representatives in everyday life, right? We need people who you can go to in your neighbourhood, who could organise the community – we need community meetings. you basically need to organise the community, right? That's an incredibly hard thing to do, and it's kind of what we’re doing.

What we’re seeing potentially is a test run for what's going to happen in twenty years with climate change and there isn't going to be an off button on that. We are very much in a house which is on fire, but we have no idea how to deal with the fire. But here we’ve got a problem that everyone can do something about with a stronger community, with a community that knows each other, with a community that has support groups and community groups and representatives from their own community elected.

I’m at a point where I’ve pretty much lost most of my faith in electoral politics and think that collective action is really the only thing going forwards. If the Oxford Hub did look into evolving service provision into something like what I outlined, that is something that I think could work. It still would be incredibly difficult, and would probably fail, but its potentially got potential. It's about building new infrastructure within the community on top of what has been built during this and I think that's vital and a very worthwhile thing going forward.

Someone in my building put up a notice in the foyer saying that it's the anniversary of her son’s death coming up and she can't go to the graveyard because of the virus, so she wanted to build a little garden memorial on her balcony, with her two little girls. She was asking for tools and plants and things. I posted the message she’d sent, and I had a wonderful response from people, loads of people, I lost count of how many people. It was really nice when I was going around collecting the bits of gardening equipment and flowers and things because I was meeting people from completely different economic backgrounds. It made me think that maybe there is more hope in getting some sort of unity and community in Oxford.

Edited by Renata Allen


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