In March 2020 Covid-19, the little known virus ‘from China’, became a global pandemic and life as we all knew it, stopped.
Supermarkets were stripped bare, toilet roll suddenly became a luxury item and 9 million people found out what the meaning of the word ‘furlough’ is – it was one of the strangest and most uncertain times I can remember (which is quite a privileged position to be in really!)
I turned 31 on Friday the 13th March, which coincidentally was the day that the city of London was shut down, taking with it my consultancy job (happy birthday me!).
Faced with the prospect of twiddling my thumbs for the foreseeable future, I offered my assistance on a couple of local Facebook groups to anyone that felt they might need some help in all the uncertainty.
173 responses later, it was clear that I couldn’t manage this on my own, so I set to work. That evening I launched Your.Tod.Squad and it’s fair to say that my whole life changed.
As a new arrival in Todmorden I was nervous to offer my help in such a close knit community but, aside from some minor gripes, found that I was welcomed and supported beyond that which I could have ever expected.
Which means that when I put out a call for volunteers, 200 were recruited, trained and ready to go within days. Crucially, this was weeks before Calderdale council began to roll out their pandemic response – a window of time that I truly believe could have been devastating to some if it wasn’t for the hard work of Your.Tod.Squad.
We soon made the local news:
The most crucial goal for me was having a clear idea of what the best impact we could have in Todmorden was during the pandemic, while factoring in that it was pandemonium and that the government and local councils were scarcely to be seen.
So I decided that if we could create something quickly, a simple triaging system where all we had to do was connect the closest available volunteers to people requesting assistance, then it might have a domino effect and get neighbours helping neighbours on a grander scale than we could ever organise or imagine.
I built the entire system using typeform’s that fed into a spreadsheet, using Google Docs, Google Maps (to locate the closest volunteer for each request) and a partnership with Three Rings CIC – a secure online volunteer management system.
After training a team of 15 admins we ran three four hour shifts a day, from 9am until 9pm, 7 days a week. Complete with a phone line, email address and Facebook group that rapidly grew to 2000+ members. The system was so effective that even when demand peaked, we were able to match requests for help with volunteers – on average – within 5 minutes!
Early on I met a local chef, who was one of the 9 million furloughed workers that was itching to stay busy, and something incredible happened:
Award winning chef, Amy Houghton and her incredible family were the ones that solved the emerging food supply crisis in Todmorden and I’ll always be in awe of the work that she did/does.
By first utilising her commercial supplier, and later creating partnerships that diverted in-date food away from landfill, Amy and team were able to supply grocery packages and ready meals at a fraction of market cost – I’m talking £4 for a weeks supply of vegetables and £1.50 for a ready meal (did I mention that she’s an award winning chef) that could be frozen and used at any point.
She even created a Pay-As-You-Feel shop in her garden, which inspired others to do the same at key points around Todmorden and supplied well in excess of 20 tons of food to people who needed it, that would have otherwise gone to waste.
But food and volunteer support weren’t the only things that were happening in Todmorden, the town quickly came alive with creative ways to keep things running.
3d-printing face shields for the NHS;
Sending out grow-your-own sunflower kits;
Building a website;
By the time July came around and lockdown measures began to ease, people were really feeling the effects of the previous few months – I know that I was!
The results were incredible though, we’d helped 1000’s of local residents (that we knew of), there had been national coverage of our work, we had established so many partnerships and joined together (from a distance) so many people that it was clear we couldn’t just call it a day. So we decided to gently roll back the food services and voluntary services in line with people getting back to work and in such a way that they could be fired back up if needed.
As the dust settled on Lockdown 1.0 I took stock of the data that we had, and it was truly staggering to see such a high success rate when I put it all into a pie chart:
Measured against the national statistics, this showed that (in theory) for each person on the shielding list in Todmorden, we had been able to offer support 4 times each over a 7 week period. Obviously it’s not that simple, but I was blown away by these numbers – all off the back of one simple Facebook post!
As summer drew to a close, I wound down my part in this amazing journey and passed the torch to the next person, who is still making sure that Your.Tod.Squad is responding to the pandemic related needs of Todmorden as they come in.
This post is only a brief glimpse into a true story of community strength. I’m proud to have been able to do my part, and privileged to have been able to work with such outstandingly selfless and compassionate people.
Put that way, 2020 wasn’t so bad really 😉