12th of March 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of Oxford Together, the volunteering programme launched to support everyone during the covid-19 pandemic. We want to take this opportunity to celebrate everyone’s contribution, which has helped meet people’s basic needs and keep people connected during a very difficult time.
It was a sunny morning exactly a year ago that a few members of staff at Oxford Hub met up at 7am, ahead of a busy day of meetings, to talk about what our response to the impending lockdown would look like. At the time, I remember feeling grateful for an enterprising and motivated team, ready to jump into action. Within a week, we had launched street champions for the city, set up a system of mutual aid for residents and begun to develop a digital platform that has processed 9100+ requests for support to date!
By the time the UK lockdown was announced on the 23rd of March, we felt so ready - the response across the City had been overwhelming, with thousands of residents putting themselves forward to help out, and organisations getting in touch to add support to the Oxford Together efforts. From arts organisations who had to close seconding staff to the effort, to shielding police staff who were not able to do their day-to-day jobs, we found ourselves growing from a small team of 7 to an extended team of 30+ people almost overnight.
To mark the year anniversary of Oxford Together, we want to share some of the learning of the past year with you and celebrate the contribution of everyone who has been involved in supporting the city during this pandemic.
1. There is incredible untapped potential across all communities to support each other. At Oxford Hub we had been involving residents and students in social action projects across the city for over a decade. However, over the course of April 2020, we had supported 11 times the number of residents who would normally start to volunteer in a month. This was an uplifting reminder of our human nature, and the desire to connect and help each other. In the words of Vivek Murthy:
When we share a common purpose, when we feel a common urgency, when we hear a call for help that we are able to answer, most of us will step up and come together.
We are energised by the positive impact that these relationships can continue to have in our communities and look forward to working with partners to grow and sustain the community spirit arising from the pandemic. We believe this will be essential to address the growing inequalities in our city in the months and years ahead.
2. It’s all about relationships. As part of the mutual aid efforts across the country, we have seen a reminder about the importance of relationships. ‘All we have is each other’ has been the rallying cry to come together and do what was necessary. It was those relationships that enabled people to stay safe - whether it was people reaching out to their neighbours for the first time, having the opportunity to build a new relationship with another resident over the phone over the past year or getting to know a new neighbour who could help with practical things.
The more challenging and complex the world becomes, the more we need social connection. This shined through in the evaluation of Oxford Together brought together through storytelling by the team at Arts at the Old Fire Station.
3. We really are stronger together. In April alone, we processed 1501 requests for support, including shopping, prescriptions, food parcels or just company for those needing some phone friendship and support. This would have not been possible without five key organisations that enabled Oxford Together to develop and offer support across the city: Arts at the Old Fire Station, Lankelly Chase, Oxford City Council, Oxford Code Lab and Oxfordshire Community Foundation. Staff and volunteers across these organisations worked relentlessly to set up things from scratch, coordinate a city-wide effort and bring in staff and financial resources to meet the huge need for support in communities. And across the city, all kinds of action was springing up and partnerships forming. We are proud to be part of this wider ecosystem, all contributing different parts of the jigsaw to build a better Oxford.
The work that has taken place over the past year wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of the staff team at Oxford Hub. A young team that worked incredibly hard, managed a huge amount of uncertainty, collaborated closely with a range of partners and took an agile approach to get lots of things done with limited planning and resources. I’d love to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all the member of staff and volunteers behind the scenes, who made it possible to process 9100+ requests for help, mobilised 1200+ to volunteer in their communities and supported each other to make things happen.
Oxford Together is the heart of what we are doing as an organisation - building relationships in communities that help us all live our best lives. We believe local support networks can have an incredibly positive impact on health, wellbeing, education and job prospects.
It shouldn’t take a pandemic for local strangers to come together and help each other! It’s been a hard year for so many and we know the road ahead isn’t going to be easy. We will continue to work to bring Oxford together, during the end of this pandemic and beyond - and we would like to invite you to be part of what we do.