VOICES OF LEWISHAM
“It was nice to think of London as neighbourhoods again, each with a sense of community – that can sometimes get lost in a big city.”
Lucy Mitchell, community engagement officer for Beckenham Place Park, took on new roles to support the Council’s response to the pandemic. Lucy discusses her work with vulnerable residents and what it was like training volunteers remotely.
“At the start of the first lockdown in March 2020, my usual role at Beckenham Place Park came to a standstill. The regular volunteering and outdoor learning sessions that I ran were put on pause. We didn’t know how popular (and vital) parks were to become during the lockdowns. Now, with so much taking place online, it is possible to do community engagement work for the park remotely (albeit in a very different format).
“I like being busy and productive, and felt I had skills that could be put to good use in the COVID response effort. So I responded to the call for volunteers. Initially, I was part of the team phoning residents who were shielding, to ensure they had the supplies they needed. I felt drained after some conversations, and sad that residents of our borough were living in such tough situations. It put the general lockdown challenges I was facing into perspective.
“Soon, I was asked if I would like to switch roles to help Lewisham Local set up a ‘Personal Assistants’ scheme, whereby volunteers in the community would buy and drop off necessary non-food supplies to people who were shielding.
“I wrote a training manual and trained over 60 volunteers on Zoom. I helped solve how to get pre-paid cash cards to volunteers and created maps showing where all our trained-up volunteers lived. This was important as we needed to match volunteers to residents living nearby, so they could walk or cycle to volunteer.
“As the requests for help from residents starting coming in, it soon became apparent that I needed help day to day. I was joined by two fabulous people who swiftly became close colleagues – one of whom I am still in touch with back in my substantive role.
“Doing this work made me feel like I was contributing to something really positive. The PA volunteers were incredible – they went above and beyond to help the residents we matched them with. Some cycled all over the place, no matter the weather. Others used their own money upfront to pay for gas and electricity top-ups when the shops wouldn’t accept the pre-paid card we had issued them with.
“We built a real sense of community between the team of volunteers and the coordinators overseeing the project. It was really nice to get to know the borough even better – to the extent that by the end I had memorised the post codes of most of the different neighbourhoods. Not sure when that skill will be useful, but it’s banked for the future!
“The positive experience of working alongside the volunteers (albeit remotely) helped balance out some of the challenges I faced. Living with a fabulous partner who has a great sense of humour and adventure also helped me cope during the pandemic. She and I ‘camped’ in the garden for Easter weekend, for example, as a mini break from it all. Having an entertaining dog and a cat to interrupt video calls and stroke when stressed helps too. Plus regular yoga to ward off aches and pains from being more sedentary than usual and running to burn off pent up energy.
“Some of my most positive experiences during this time were the open, honest and sometimes raw conversations with people. It’s amazing how quickly many people have adapted to a world where it’s ok to talk openly about mental health. Also seeing how we humans can pull together in a time of crisis and show real kindness to strangers. It was nice to think of London as neighbourhoods again, each with a sense of community –that sometimes can get lost in a big city. Personally, I enjoyed slowing down a bit and finding more time to really get to know my local area.
“My fear looking forward is that we might not be able to see friends and family in the same way that we used to for quite a long time to come. I’d love to go and stay overnight at my parents’ house, for example, or to hug a friend. It’s hard not knowing when those things will be allowed again.
“My partner and I are due to get married on 21 August and some of my family live in Portugal. If the wedding can go ahead but they can’t come I would find that really tough. I’m keeping everything crossed for vaccine successes.
“I hope that we can carry forward all the positives from dealing with one global crisis in order to tackle another global crisis that is omnipresent but not being addressed fast enough: climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic has been phenomenal for showing what can be done when there is real political will and collaboration across all sectors of society. I’d love for us to keep that momentum going and really throw everything we’ve got at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing green technology that is affordable and easily rolled out, and changing the laws to favour green economies and employment over financially-driven environmentally damaging industries.”
Lucy spoke to us in February 2021