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We've Shown That We Can Adapt

I think that’s the main thing for me, that these different volunteering organisations all have a common goal that they’re trying to work towards, and they’re able to share their ideas and share their resources much more effectively. 

Before all of this started I was working in the environmental sustainability team at the Oxford City Council, but I’d only been there for a couple of months. I was doing engagement and communications around sustainability and the environment - building relationships and partnerships with community or environmental groups that exist in the city and giving them information and support. I was putting on sustainability themed events and trying to develop a partnership between some of the city’s biggest carbon emitters to get them to work together more on the issue of climate change. Because it was about direct engagement, putting on events, running face- to -face activities, it became pretty clear that a lot of that was going to be postponed. So when the Council was talking about setting up its response to coronavirus, it seemed like a pretty good opportunity for me to say, ‘Yeah, I will have some time available to focus on other, more pressing matters’. 

Straight away we were designated into the areas of the city, the different Hubs. I was told I’d be on the East Hub, in Cowley, and that it would officially open on the Thursday. I think I got the email on the Monday or Tuesday, so it was like, “This is coming, get ready to be there”.  I remember thinking it was chaotic, but that everyone’s attitude was so positive that was what was going to get us through. Like, I could tell, on the first day, that in a week’s time we’d be in a much better position. And then when it got to that week later, I thought, “Yeah, it’s still chaos, but we’re getting better, and in a week’s time, it’s going to be better still.” And I felt that pretty much every week. There were lots of challenges. You know, the technology wasn’t there. It was a very time-consuming, admin-heavy process and there were certain times when I felt pretty frustrated and needed to cool off, because I was feeling like there were a lot of problems with the system. But I never lost that feeling that we were getting to a better place. People were working on the situation, and if you said, “Here’s the problem, this isn’t working, we need a solution”, then people would take that seriously, and would work on it until there was a way forward. That’s been the case all the way through. 

Working more and more closely with the Oxford Hub has given us the opportunity to use their systems and put the Council’s people power behind Oxford Hub’s adaptability and agility. Combining those two strengths has been really positive. And I think it’s been pretty helpful that the key people in places of power, the decision makers, have taken that on board and have run with that, which maybe under different circumstances they would have been more hesitant to do. I think they realised that we needed to get a system in place that worked, and that has happened, so that’s great.

Having worked for the Hub in the past I was used to some of the ways it works, and even familiar with some of the software that they used, like ‘Slack’ - one of the main communication tools. And I was also just used to their speed and adaptability, and how agile they are as an organisation. Adapting to new technology, or suddenly having to change the way you worked, that’s normally a much slower process at the Council, I feel, whereas at the Oxford Hub they’re much more dynamic. 

I’m involved in triaging referrals that come in. So that’s essentially getting the help and basic support to the people that need it - like emergency boxes of food, getting medicine delivered, getting them matched up with a volunteer who can help out with shopping, or maybe just giving them a check-in call. We use a couple of different pieces of software to help streamline this process and I have become one of the supervisors for this –a ‘super-user’. That’s not my favourite term, but there you go. We’re supposed to be familiar with how the systems work and the different ways that people can get help. For people involved who are less familiar with the system, we’re able to advise them, answering questions that they might have, and giving them pointers to help make it as easy a process as possible.

When we started off I was put into a team with people that I’d never met or spoken to, even though we worked at the Council. It’s been really interesting to get to know these different people and their skills.  For the first few weeks we were trying to figure out what everyone was best at doing, where their energies were best spent. Because we’re all starting from scratch and everyone’s got a blank slate, it is somehow less bureaucratic or hierarchical, and if a change needs to be made, if it’s brought to people’s attention, then that change can happen fairly quickly. And perhaps that’s because people are aware that in this situation, if we want to be effective, we have to respond in a flexible way.

New relationships, internal and external, have been a real positive. I think the way the Council has been collaborating with Oxford Hub, and the Oxford Hub has been working with lots and lots of different organisations, means that the Council has formed stronger bonds with individuals and community groups, like the Central Mosque, that it wouldn’t have otherwise been able to interact with. These relationships that have been built up have been really, really positive and I think it’s important we hold onto them going forward. Within the Council itself, people from different departments have also been collaborating and working together more collectively. I think learning more about other parts of the Council that you wouldn’t have otherwise been in contact with has been really beneficial in terms of who I will now know to contact about such and such going forward. 

Because everyone’s got a common problem that they want to deal with, it’s really helped to bring groups together, and the willingness of different people to work together in new ways has really changed. I mean I think that’s the main thing for me, that these different volunteering organisations all have a common goal that they’re trying to work towards, and they’re able to share their ideas and share their resources much more effectively. 

For me personally, I feel like maybe now I’m more confident to put my ideas forward, take my ideas forward. Some of the work I’m doing now in my day job is to try and embed some of what we’ve learnt from this into climate change action. If we want to avoid being in a crisis situation a few years down the line, then we need to be taking action right now. And I think that people are generally more receptive to that, and I also think that there will inevitably need to be some change to the way we work, the way we live.  I think that now people have a real understanding of what it means to change the way you live to respond to a crisis. And hopefully, when the government says, “We can’t change all these people who work in the fossil fuel industry, how can we possibly adapt and get them to be working in the renewable industry”, we can say, “We’ve shown that we can adapt”. I think the argument that something is too big a change just doesn’t hold any water now.

Edited by Renata Allen


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