BLOG: Learning and sharing the response to COVID-19 in North Devon

BLOG: Learning and sharing the response to COVID-19 in North Devon

For over five years, One Ilfracombe has been working to improve the health and wellbeing of local residents through their social prescribing scheme. This March, the partnership reacted early to challenges in their community they saw coming from COVID-19. Recognising their existing infrastructure and their unique ability to respond, One Ilfracombe rapidly focused their attention on what was needed.

From a series of interviews with One Northern Devon, which established ‘One Communities’ like One Ilfracombe across North Devon, we have summarised insights from their recent work.

Part of our work with test bed sites within our Institute for Social Prescribing, such as One Ilfracombe, during COVID-19 is to explore and share more widely how to best identify and coordinate care for vulnerable people at risk of COVID-19 during the next phase of the pandemic.

What has struck us at the SW AHSN is the substantial number of older people in Ilfracombe and the significant hidden deprivation in the town. This poses particular challenges during a crisis like COVID-19.

Building on their existing strengths, One Ilfracombe has organised the delivery of volunteer support through a sustainable and self-organising structure based on clear organisation of efforts in individual sections and streets of the town, and a work plan to coordinate logistics overall. Volunteer area coordinators allocate people, deliveries and support according to need within the community. This has meant assistance offered by One Ilfracombe can effectively exist alongside informal structures and networks of community volunteers.

The One Northern Devon team has also developed an impressive cascade system making it simple to delegate jobs from a central phone line, and also to delegate local needs up the system when they are unmet. This is likely to be critical for shifting focus over time, throughout the pandemic and beyond. By following the cascade system, if volunteers get sick, or the national situation changes, people in Ilfracombe can continue to rely on community support.

For One Northern Devon Partnership Development Manager, Hannah McDonald, the community response made all the difference.

Here we share with you some of the early actions that have enabled this rapid response in Ilfracombe:

  • Segmenting the town into delegated co-ordinated hubs
  • Focusing efforts on people who don’t have family and friends around them
  • Mobilisation of existing resources: volunteers with existing Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificates, council volunteer car services
  • A clear protocol and procedures for volunteers to follow
  • Use of social media for effective recruitment and information sharing
  • Patience with themselves and the system: the response is ‘fast but not perfect!’

Aside from the impact within the town itself, One Ilfracombe has also been sharing its learning and resources with other towns under One Northern Devon. The different towns in this very rural county, including Barnstaple, South Molton, and Torridge, have adopted the approach in different ways.

We look forward to hearing more from the hard-working teams in North Devon in the coming weeks as part of evolving work across our Institute for Social Prescribing and as part of our work focusing on meeting the needs of vulnerable people across the region. Our thanks to Hannah McDonald of One Ilfracombe  and Andrea Beacham of One Northern Devon for sharing their learning at this point.

Read more about the experience of One Ilfracombe and One Northern Devon during COVID-19 in the full case study (opposite).

The One Northern Devon team has participated in the SW AHSN’s Spread Academy, an immersive training course designed to equip teams and leaders in health and care with the skills they need to unleash large-scale change.

The South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN) has been inviting organisations from across the South West to participate in an exercise on rapid cycle learning – a way of capturing and transferring knowledge to continually improve a system – during COVID-19. Some of the first participants in our study are from the test beds of our Institute for Social Prescribing. Click here to download the learning highlights.

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