Give them an emergency to manage and they will rally together!
After 18 months of hard graft on all sides, we finally legally merged on 6 May. Up Our Street, Easton Community Centre and Felix Road Adventure Playground became one organisation – together but apart, all working from home.
When researching best practice in how to integrate organisations, it is often cited that bringing people together in one staff team with one organisational culture is the toughest challenge we face. We faced this challenge under already extreme circumstances – a global pandemic which forced us all into isolation. I have to admit, I was worried. All my team building plans for staff and board had to go on hold while we dealt with the crisis at hand, both for our organisation and for our community.
In those first few days and weeks, we were struggling to adapt like everyone else. All our ambitions and vision for the new organisation felt out of reach. Our playground and community centre had to close their doors just when we were hoping to scale up our plans.
But we knew we were still needed. The families who rely on Felix Road for play, food and support still needed us. The many faces of Easton who use the community centre were still out there. We realised if they couldn’t come to us, we needed to go to them. We offered our spaces and staff to support Bristol City Council’s citywide emergency response, connecting volunteers with people who needed help and setting up a weekly food and supplies delivery scheme.
In the space of just two weeks, we had a fully functioning service which visited 52 adults and 80 children, using volunteers to deliver food, nappies, baby milk and creative activities for children. We were making support phone calls to over 60 individuals who were shielding. We had found a way to combine our playground, our community centre, our communications and our community development team together into one service and it worked. We know our visits have been a lifeline for those families and individuals but they have also served as a lifeline for us – giving us a shared purpose in a time of crisis when all our traditional forms of community work were no longer possible, and bringing our team and board together with a mutual desire to be there during this difficult time.
In their recent report We were built for this about community organisation’s response to COVID-19, Locality called community organisations like ours ‘cogs of connection’, linking government, local authority and community together to respond to the needs in the neighbourhood. Our emergency hub has also created ‘cogs of connection’ between us and cemented our shared values as a new organisation, working towards our vision of a place of possibility for everyone.
Stacy Yelland, CEO