If there was a positive to come from the pandemic it has to be the way ordinary people from all walks of life came together to support each other and the vulnerable. It is therefore heartening to know that volunteers from Care Network Blackburn are continuing their good work by delivering wider public health messages to local communities.
Over 300 disabled people from Care Network (and their partners) signed up for the Covid Community Champions project, which enlisted local disabled volunteers to provide information and support on behalf of the council and NHS. They were supported to communicate messages to friends, family, neighbours, colleagues and networks across Blackburn with Darwen. They also gathered feedback to develop ongoing, targeted campaigns.
Throughout the project, volunteers were encouraged to attend fortnightly meetings with the Director of Public Health on Zoom, who provided guidance on key messages to be delivered, including advice on keeping safe and getting vaccinated and signposting to mobile clinics. Champions spread details via a variety of channels, including videos on YouTube and social media.
As an incentive to become champions, volunteers were each given a £40 voucher to spend with a local business of their choice, including markets, hairdressers, coffee shops and Blackburn Rovers.
Although funding came to an end in September 2021, the project was so successful it carried on informally, and is now due to receive further funding for the Champions offer to continue.
James Hadleigh, Chief Executive Officer of Care Network, said: “The initiative made a huge impact. It brought people in the disabled community together and gave them a common sense of purpose to help ensure people we find hard to reach were safe. This included encouraging take-up of vaccinations amongst the disabled community
“We asked each of our 300 champions to share messages with 25 people - so that’s 7,500 people, which is about 5% of the whole population of the borough.”
James continued: “They felt safer because they knew they could trust the information they received from us. As a result, our volunteers played a crucial role in controlling the virus and helping us get safely back to some kind of normality.
“It also helped those who felt isolated. We used funding to provide laptops so they could participate in online meetings, and we ran focus groups when restrictions allowed. Our champions were also given badges and lanyards so they felt part of the campaign.
“The project was so successful we still have champions sharing information. Some have stayed on from during Covid and undergone refresher training and some are new. We have also included volunteers from the local blind society and deaf group to include wider disabilities.”
Future key messaging beyond Covid will cover responding to emergencies and community resilience, coping with the cost-of-living crisis, fuel and food poverty, and health and wellbeing.
“This will provide the disabled community with information to help them in all kinds of essential areas,” said James. “From dealing with energy and water bills to smoking cessation or gambling, it’s about getting those key messages out to those who are vulnerable and need support. We are extremely grateful to those who give up their time to make such a vital difference to people within their communities.”