As the world locked down, organisations in the community and voluntary sector stepped up.
A collaborative project between Dr Alix Green and Dr Rebecca Warren and Community 360, a Colchester-based charity, aimed to record the experiences of Colchester’s charities and volunteers as they fought to deliver vital services to the community.
I was lucky enough to be invited on board to capture the voices of the community in a series of oral testimonies.
Between October 2020 and February 2021, we interviewed 22 community organisers – people running voluntary and charitable services in the Colchester area - recording their experiences and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. These services covered a range of needs from homelessness to hospice care.
When we started interviewing, Essex was in Tier 2, so all interviews were conducted remotely. We asked them about their initial response and reaction to the pandemic, their ongoing experiences, and challenges, and what they thought the future held.
Most interviews lasted for over 90 minutes and captured the experience of community organisers and their changing role, not just as members of organisations but also as individuals. Some of the testimonies have been difficult to listen to but many of the interviewees fed back that they had found talking through the experiences of the pandemic like a kind of therapy.
The pandemic created new challenges for these organisations and required them to rapidly make decisions and adapt in order to best serve their community. This looked different across the sector, for some it meant making the difficult decision to pause their services, for others it meant adapting their services physically and digitally to ensure the safety of their community. Even where organisations had to pause their usual activities, their support for individuals did not stop and they continued to reach out and help those who had become isolated because of the pandemic.
The interviews, directly quoted within our Communities Responding to Crisis report, highlight the resilience and adaptability of the voluntary sector, and show their rapid response to changing demands throughout the pandemic. They have shown where the gaps are that need to be filled to continue the vital work that organisations are doing across the region and to continue to support people who have been impacted by the pandemic.
The findings of the report have already begun to influence decisions surrounding funding and strategy highlight the impact of collaborative research with local communities.
Working collaboratively on this project has given me the opportunity to work closely with Community 360 and the project team and allowed me to take part in a conversation where support in the local community was the central focus.
Throughout the project, I have developed my skills as a researcher and had the opportunity to present the findings in a range of ways through the in-depth report and presentations to partners and contributors.
Research student, University of Essex
Sam is a postgraduate research student in the Department of History. Her research interests are worker democracies, workplace representation and oral history methods. Her doctoral research is a collaborative project between the John Lewis Partnership Archive and the University of Essex, funded by CHASE.