Latest

Tales of Covid – Barnet Together

Categories

Barnet is another outer borough which contains many families who choose to live further away from the centre in order to experience a better quality of life. The borough is the most heavily populated of all London boroughs, although it does spread across a wide region of north west London.

The North Circular road intersects the borough and the development of Brent Cross shopping centre in 1976 gave the area a distinct character as a focus point for consumer retail, years before developments such as Westfield elsewhere. Historically, it was Conservative controlled for almost it’s entire existence, although Labour would go on to form the administration from 2022.

As in many areas, Barnet’s voluntary sector over the years has sometimes struggled to secure the funding required to run its services. This led a group of voluntary and community organisations in 2018 to form Barnet Together, an alliance between Inclusion Barnet, Volunteering Barnet and the Young Barnet Foundation to provide support, training, resources and advice to Barnet’s Voluntary, Community, Faith and Social Enterprise (VCFSE) organisations.

By the middle of March 2020, before the first lockdown started on the 23rd, Barnet Together produced a plan for a Joint Task Force to prepare the borough for what was likely to be around the corner.

Barnet Together – Covid support

Inclusion Barnet CEO Caroline Collier, Young Barnet Foundation CEO Janet Matthewson and Volunteering Barnet director Katrina Baker presented a proposal to the CEO of Barnet Council outlining how a cross sector taskforce to provide support during Covid. This was brought to the council who immediately saw the benefit of combining this structure with its own strategic planning for the Covid response.

Barnet Together and the council then co-led a Community Response Strategic Group working across the following areas: adults, children, volunteering, supplies, communities and faith. From March 2020 onwards, Barnet Together effectively co-ordinated the voluntary sector response to Covid in the borough, and the council significantly increased its funding to the partnership to enable it to fulfil this role.

The Strategic Group set up a Covid support website for residents on 17th March and Volunteering Barnet began the process of finding and selecting volunteers. Barnet Together also collected sector data and intelligence to understand needs and highlight gaps in provision.

The council set up a distribution hub to enable the provision of food to residents isolating at home. Barnet Together brokered connections with food banks across the borough, and when shielding restrictions were lifted the hub was handed over to Barnet Together to run.

The Hub continues to this day and still gives out around six tonnes of surplus food a week. The data collected by the partnership through the Hub and foodbank network now provides the Council and Public Health with accurate information on food poverty which previously it did not have. The Food Hub was one of many examples of innovative responses to the pandemic made possible by the proactive actions of the component organisations in setting up Barnet Together in the first place.

Barnet Council quickly realised how impactful this joint strategic approach would be and from the start were appreciative and supportive of the partnership’s activities. The partnership set up a Barnet Community Response Fund to raise money within the borough, raising money from residents through online giving and from financial allocation from the Council; during 2020, they gave out £125,000 in small portions to groups that needed financial support quickly in order to continue to support their own clients.

Successful support in Barnet

By the middle of the year, just four months or so on from the 23rd March first lockdown announcement, the wider sector had developed and delivered additional support across everything from debt advice to bereavement counselling, to vulnerable children identification. Within the first three months of the pandemic, the partnership gave out over 10,000 food packages to over 750 households and worked across a range of support measures to support both residents and the Council itself.

So impactful has the work of Barnet Together been that the Council has significantly increased the funding it provides to the partnership. This is enabling Barnet Together to grow its offer and achieve even more for the communities of Barnet. It is not an exaggeration to say that Barnet Together, working together with the Council, forms the backbone of the infrastructure of service delivery in the borough.

Having created a CEOs network of voluntary and charity groups on the borough, the partnership created a Voluntary Sector Manifesto including all groups within the borough which was formally approved by the Council in 2020 as the strategic vision for working with voluntary services.

The success of Barnet Together has been significant within the borough. The years of austerity across London brought hard times for voluntary groups and often marginalised them as less important elements within the infrastructure of the city. In Barnet, however, this has been reversed through the intelligent strategic vision of the group combined with the dedicated hard work of its members, and now there does appear to be a powerful bond between the Council and the partnership in terms of a vision for the future.

***

Thank you for reading. Check out the full Tales of Covid report for more stories.

Follow us on socials: