Before COVID-19, Walsall Black Sisters Collective (WBSC) was going about its daily charitable work, providing services and support to communities across the borough of Walsall, fully aware of the threat of a global pandemic that was emerging and the possible effects coming onto the shores of the UK.
When the lockdown was introduced on 23rd March 2020, it came as a shock to the organisation. Services delivered by WBSC had to close with immediate effect and they were unable to put contingency measures in place. They had to quickly adapt to react towards supporting communities at risk. After over 30 years of service, WBSC was adamant they had to continue to support the community through this crisis.
Through existing links established as a result of partnership working, WBSC received donations of food supplies in large quantities. They were able to set up a food bank, a food parcel delivery service, a shopping service, as well as providing a “Ring-Around Befriending and Counselling Service” to those at risk and in isolation.
As links with partner organisations were already established (including Walsall Council’s Making Connections Programme, One Walsall and the voluntary sector), communities have come together in a coordinated effort to ensure that residents remained safe and well. Under Making Connections Walsall, WBSC serves the south of the borough, with Accord Age Matters being the lead hub. WBSC’s work takes place across the whole borough and therefore they also work with Old Hall People’s Partnership, Bloxwich Community Partnership and Manor Farm Community Association.
WBSC also recognises the great support they have received from other local community organisations, such as Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, who have donated food in great quantities on a regular basis; Leah Taylor (Tesco Community Champion) and Asda Darlaston, as well as donations from individuals in the local community.
WBSC supports communities across the borough of Walsall, who are vulnerable and are at risk of being isolated and left without essentials during the coronavirus lockdown. This includes elderly people with no close relatives, those with underlying health conditions, disabled residents, children and families with little income, those with mental health concerns and victims of crime whom they are supporting as a result of modern-day slavery and domestic abuse. One of the core groups that have benefitted from the work of WBSC is those from the Black Minority Ethnic (or BME) communities.
The uniqueness of the service provided is that the food parcel delivery service is not a one size fits all approach. Individuals are asked about their dietary requirements and specific foods that they eat. Cultural preferences also play a part, helping to reduce food waste.
WBSC believes the gratitude of residents who receive support is the key highlight of their work. Residents are thankful, offering to pay or to make a donation when the pandemic is over. They are also grateful to see someone at the door. The loneliness and isolation are also real. WBSC met one elderly lady, (while maintaining social distancing) who stayed at the door to talk for half an hour. During that time, a lot was learnt – the individual was very active in the community while staying healthy. She is having to self-isolate due to underlying health concerns. She now receives regular befriending calls and deliveries.
It is now nine weeks into the ‘lockdown’ and the effects are already being felt. Mental health and wellbeing is a key factor. Surviving COVID-19 is a long-term matter. Walsall, as a community, has demonstrated care for others and the response has been phenomenal. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that in the time of crisis, community cohesion can be seen at its best. WBSC will be continuing its work to support the communities of Walsall with its partners. Walsall is for all.