From shopping trips to appointments with the hairdresser – as communities prepare for the ‘new normal’, Anna Whitty MBE, Chief Executive at ECT, reflects on the key role that community transport must now play in supporting elderly and vulnerable people to reconnect safely with their communities, and get out and about with confidence after months in isolation.
A recent survey by the British Red Cross revealed that two in five UK adults felt lonelier under lockdown. Even more worrying, the survey found that 28% thought that nobody would notice if something happened to them, while 33% feared that their feelings of loneliness would get worse in the years ahead.
These figures bring into stark focus some of the longer-term issues that we will be facing following the Covid-19 lockdown.
As we all know, loneliness and isolation did not just appear as a result of the novel coronavirus. Ask anybody who works at ECT, and they will tell you that these issues are longstanding – and they will remain a major focus for our charity in the months and years to come.
Over the past few months, we have continued to work with councils, care homes and schools across our communities in west London, Cheshire and Dorset to ensure lifeline transport services have remained available and can be accessed safely. During the Covid-19 lockdown, however, certain services have ceased to be available for the community in their traditional form and ECT has stepped up to adapt so that these services could come to the homes of vulnerable members of our community.
ECT has taken the opportunity to partner with other organisations, including local voluntary sector organisations that we haven’t worked with before. Working in true partnership style with these organisations and local councils such as Ealing Council, we have undertaken welfare checks, delivered essential food parcels and distributed vital PPE.
As an organisation, we have stepped up. As individuals, our team has also stepped up – quite frankly, very bravely in those early days – to ensure, for example, that no one in Ealing went without food during those scary weeks at the height of the pandemic. This is even more remarkable when you consider that, at the time, Ealing found itself near the national epicentre of Covid-19 cases. We were “saving lives”, said the Leader of Ealing Council at the time.
Right now, as we move towards the ‘new normal’, there is a crucial job to do to support many hundreds of people across the different parts of the UK where we operate to help them get back to their daily lives and reconnect with their local communities.
ECT and the wider community transport sector must focus on how we help people to go out, remain independent and be able to socialise with others. The form this will take will need to evolve and adapt to respond to the progression of the pandemic but our role during this period is to help make this happen. To be positive and committed in the way that we provide essential transport that is Covid-secure and steers a safe journey back to normality.
As our communities begin to emerge from their homes cautiously, our work as a charity, especially in combatting loneliness and isolation, will be more important than ever. I think lockdown has given us all a renewed understanding of the devastating impact of loneliness and isolation and how much we value being able to leave our homes and retain our independence. I am personally determined to keep our passengers – our beneficiaries – at the forefront of our planning for the shorter and longer term.
The good news is that we are in a strong position to do this. Our values as a charity, our track record of professionalism and commitment before the lockdown, our fantastic team and the partnerships and trust we have built during these challenging times, give us confidence that we can be leaders on the ‘front line’ in helping our communities get back to life.
As a charity we must not lose sight of our mission.
We have undertaken numerous risk assessments based on the ever-changing situation and on government guidance. This will be the continuing norm – ECT is, and will continue to be, ‘Covid-secure’ by following guidance and implementing necessary mitigations.
We have written to our passengers across the regions reminding them that we are still here to take them out when they are ready. Their phone calls have started, our passengers are exploring their possibilities even if they are not quite ready to step outside their homes. Individuals are asking what shopping trips might look like – and would they be able to go to a hairdresser’s appointment?!
Our passengers now know that our safe and friendly transport is ready to take them out when the right time comes.
The impending epidemic of loneliness highlighted in a recent survey by the British Red Cross that ECT has always been working so hard to alleviate, in particular through our PlusBus services, will be worse than ever. ECT, and the community transport sector as a whole, will continue to have a critical role in fighting this challenge. I am determined that, as we have shown so far, Covid-19 will not stop us in this mission.