City Council in the heart of the community to support those most in need

Published: Tuesday, 12th May 2020

Oxford City Council’s response to the coronavirus emergency has seen an unprecedented speed and scale of reorganising how the council delivers its support to residents.

The service is continuing to evolve to make sure people can get the right support through this crisis.

Developing a full service approach

In the first days of lockdown the contact centre, community services and voluntary partnerships were quickly redesigned to help with urgent practical needs. This has already developed to a whole service approach where skilled and experienced staff take a case worker approach to support residents with all their issues, from food parcels to housing, mental health issues, financial support and more. This approach builds on extensive experience working with residents across service areas, and has enabled the council to get the systems and training in place alongside delivering emergency aid.

Support for residents is delivered by putting the person, rather than the service, at the heart of things. Residents needing help call the main Council number, where staff who have been trained to deal with complex issues and vulnerable residents can talk through their needs and connect them with the right support. For many this will mean they are referred to a locality response hub for urgent assistance to make sure they get all the right support.

Locality response hubs to support residents

Locality response hubs, based in the heart of the community and with expert teams of staff from across the council, have delivered emergency support and teamed up with community groups and volunteers to support the vulnerable.

Within these hubs, staff now take a case worker approach for each resident who is referred, discussing all their potential needs.  They coordinate the right services to support the resident – whether that is help to with benefits and housing services, emergency food supplies or linking them up with a volunteer for practical support.

Basing them in the local area means they have been able to door knock to check on vulnerable residents, quickly deliver emergency supplies, and they know the local area and understand the local issues.

A typical referral might be:

Someone phoned because they need food support, and the call handler identified that they are also isolated and need a prescription. The hub staff follow up with a phone call or visit and find that this is someone with no local support who is self-isolating, so they need a volunteer to pick up their prescriptions and shop for groceries for them, and to top up their electricity key meter.

They have financial problems and are added to the local community food larder list to supplement their grocery shopping. To help them cope with loneliness and isolation they are connected to a local community group that is offering safe social contact through phone calls and online activities.

The hub staff also learn it’s their birthday next week, and make sure the volunteers and community group know and are able to do something to mark it. This person is now on the list of vulnerable people and the hub will check back to make sure they continue to have the support they need.

Weekly statistics

Over 2000 referrals have now been made.  Last week 475 requests for food supplies were fulfilled and each week around 30 tonnes of emergency food are distributed.

From Mon 4 - Sun 10 May the Council received 258 new request for support. The top reasons for asking for help were:

  • 106 requests for urgent supplies
  • 42 requests for help picking up shopping

Volunteer support from Oxford Hub

Central to this effort has been the unique Oxford Together partnership between the Council and community support and volunteer action, led by the voluntary organisation Oxford Hub. 

Oxford Hub’s vision is to support communities working together to tackle social problems and motivating volunteering across a range of activities.

Their initial call for volunteers saw over 5,000 people come forward to support their community – ordinary people wanting to help those around them.  Some collect prescriptions, some do shopping runs, others do regular welfare check calls and help fight the loneliness of isolation. Each is an individual story of selfless commitment to help others in need.

It is anticipated that this level of support will be needed for months to come – regardless of any easing of lockdown restrictions – as the impacts on the vulnerable will continue, as will their need for support.

“Oxford City Council has deployed a new model of working through the locality response hubs and our staff continue to work flexibly to meet the priority of supporting the most vulnerable in our city.

“We’ve pledged that no-one will go hungry, we’ve housed the homeless and we continue to deliver the services that keep the city running.

“Our partnership with communities has never been stronger, thanks to the Oxford Hub and the many charities, community groups and individual volunteers.  I am so grateful to all who have helped in whatever way they can.

“This is not just a model for an emergency – it is something we want to embed in the   way we work for and with people and communities going forward. As a council we have learned a great deal from this experience and will continue to change the way we work to respond to the challenges our city faces.  We also want to ensure we continue to harness the community spirit and action.

“We’ve shown that Oxford is stronger together – and thanks to this incredible response we will get through difficult times, together now and in the future.”

Councillor Marie Tidball, Cabinet Member for Supporting Local Communities

“Oxford Hub was set up to channel the strength of our communities across Oxford.   We were not expecting a challenge as great as this, but how people across the city have responded is testimony to that strength.

“Every day, hundreds of volunteers and every small task they do provide help to those who need it most, for which we are all grateful. 

“We know we will need their support not just now, but it should become the way we work for people and communities into the future, as Oxford is stronger together.”

Lizzie Shelmerdine of Oxford Hub

How to get in touch to ask for help:

If you need help with food or essential supplies, call the Contact Centre on 01865 249 811 or submit an online form, available on our Community Assistance page.