How the Pandemic Brought the Community Together
by Daphne Biliouri-Grant
From humble beginnings….
In mid-March, a few days before the lockdown was announced in the UK, a small group of concerned residents of St Andrews came together in order to establish a community aid group, quickly named the Community Aid St Andrews (CASA) group, which began creating a response team in anticipation of the help that would be required over the coming months.
The group started through Facebook, where it currently has almost 3,000 members. We felt that we needed to be able to respond quickly and effectively, so within the first few days we spread the word through leaflets throughout town, with announcements through our Facebook group page. We also wanted to make sure we had some funding in place to be able to provide the support to our community in whatever shape or form was needed due to the Covid-19 crisis. It was wonderful to see how the wider community responded; we secured funds from the St Andrews Community Trust, the St Andrews Rotary Club, more recently from the Community Council and the University Community Fund.
The St Andrews Community Trust, funded by the Links Trust, was instrumental in the early days of setting up the CASA group. The financial support provided by the St Andrews Community Trust has been invaluable in ensuring that food supplies, energy, and other essentials, can be provided to the most vulnerable members of our community. Margaret Lees, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the St Andrews Community Trust, said, “The CASA group is a community of people who care for each other, especially the most vulnerable among us, and want to do what they can to encourage and support each other during this difficult time”.
The Rotary Club of St Andrews has also been supportive. The Club has been at the heart of the local community for more than ninety years, helping those in need, whether temporarily or longer term. CASA has been an ideal vehicle to enable effective intervention, so the Club is pleased to offer its support. Rotary Club’s President, John Christie, said, “The founders of CASA are to be admired. They are doing a great job supporting those in our community most in need in the present circumstances. It is also heart-warming to see how many people have come forward to volunteer their time to help others. The Rotary Club of St Andrews has been very pleased to assist in this important initiative.”
As we continued to reach out to the vulnerable members of our community, within the first couple of weeks we established a website (www.communityaidstandrews.co.uk) and set up a freephone helpline (03000 122 014) to ensure that people can access us both online and through more traditional means if they don’t use the internet. It is wonderful to see how the community has come together, while the interest to get involved with the group has been overwhelming. People have been reaching out to us both to register their interest in volunteering, but most importantly, to ask for help.
What have we been doing?
Our aim from the very beginning was to make sure that we can provide the much-needed assistance to the vulnerable members of our community, or direct them to the right resources. We have developed a database of volunteers helping with numerous requests for grocery shopping for individuals and families who have been self-isolating, or shielding. Since CASA was set up, we have also been busy engaging with the medical practices, the hospital, and the pharmacies, to ensure that all prescriptions are delivered to the people who can’t pick them up. Also we have been providing food supplies and energy to households faced with financial difficulties.
We have been co-ordinating with several local community groups. For example, we have been working closely with the North East Fife Community Hub and the local food bank, Storehouse, to ensure that people facing financial difficulties have access to food parcels. We are also engaging with the St Andrews Environmental Network, ensuring that financial support can be provided through the Cosy Kingdom scheme for people facing fuel poverty. We are co-ordinating with Fife Council, as we are the community aid group dealing with requests within St Andrews and the surrounding area.
While the first 6 weeks of our establishment was all about crisis management, as we are all adapting to a new reality, CASA is also evolving, to ensure that it continues to support our community.
We will connect people in need to the right organisations so they receive advice and support, as well as provide financial assistance in some of the households within St Andrews and the surrounding area.
Following the Scottish Government’s advice to use face covering in enclosed public spaces, CASA was quick to respond. By the end of May a group of volunteers was assembled to help with the production of face masks. CASA sourced and provided volunteers with packs containing all the required materials, with instructions to make masks, given as priority to the vulnerable.
In addition, CASA has also been supporting the elderly by establishing befrienders, or chat groups for the individuals not online, so they don’t feel isolated. For the families with young children who have been struggling with home schooling, CASA has also supported the creation of craft bags for children from primary schools in St Andrews who are most in need. The craft bags contain basic stationery items with a selection of stickers and card-making materials that were widely welcomed.
We hope that CASA is, and continues to be, a helping hand for the wider community, so feel free to reach out to us!