Community, Connection and Cohesion Case Study: “I’ve barely left the house in a year – but helped set up an organisation helping hundreds.”

As part of our research Beyond Us and Them looking at the effects on social cohesion during Covid-19, we have been collecting inspiring examples of people and communities building connection and cohesion where they live:

Janet Lymer, 61, lives in Calderdale, Yorkshire, with her husband Guy and their dog, Eric. A retired businesswoman, Janet was instrumental in setting up Calder Community Cares within just eight days of the first coronavirus lockdown being announced in March 2020.

Run by a central group of 12 residents, Calder Community Cares now has more than 400 registered beneficiaries and 200 volunteers. The group arranges everything from deliveries of food parcels and medication to book and board games loans, training on how to use Zoom and other video apps to phone calls checking on elderly and housebound residents.

And Janet has done all this despite barely leaving the house herself for a year – diagnosed with lung condition sarcoidosis and asthma, she has been shielding since March 2020. Many of Calder Community Cares’ other volunteers are also housebound – but help out by making greetings cards to send to fellow residents or telephoning others to check they are OK. And Janet thinks the volunteers get as much benefit from being involved as those they are helping.

Volunteering kindness:  

Janet says: We have been very lucky to have had a lot of support from the council and other statutory agencies. But there is a lot of kindness in Calderdale and it’s just a case of harnessing that.

“Right from the beginning, people wanted to help – within a day of setting up Calder Community Cares we had 200 people registering for support, but that was quickly matched by the same number of people asking to volunteer.

“Some of the people who initially signed up to receive support have then gone on to volunteer themselves – kindness really does beget kindness.

“A lot of our volunteers say having a structure that allows them to volunteer regularly has saved their sanity too and allowed them to connect to people they didn’t know before. It means people have been able to feel a connection with neighbours and the community even if like me they can’t leave the house.”

Beyond Covid-19 – a legacy: 

As more people receive Covid jabs, Calder Community Cares is now working on a ‘Recovery Plan’ to move beyond the pandemic and applying for charitable status to allow it to continue. The group is focussing on enabling volunteering, supporting the elderly and isolated and working with families seeing themselves entering poverty and needing to use foodbanks for the first time due to recession and job losses.

Janet herself has also received her first Covid jab – but says she remains wary of going out. She says: “I am still terrified of catching Covid. It’s been nearly a year of barely leaving the house. Occasionally my husband can persuade me to go on a dog walk but that’s it.

“We do need to think about how to help people build up confidence again, how do we create a safe re-introduction for elderly and vulnerable people so we’re working on a plan called ‘little walk and a small talk’ to help people get out together once restrictions allow.

“We’re also working more with families entering poverty for the first time because we feel that the recession may last a long time. Many haven’t ever had to use a foodbank before and some have been unable to feed their pets.

“But we put a shout out and as previously, people came forward to help – so we’re now able to distribute pet food as well as food parcels.

Calderdale Cares belongs to the people of Calderdale and it will continue beyond the pandemic. The past year has been so difficult but this is an amazing legacy to come out of it.”

Community, Connection and Cohesion During Covid-19: Beyond Us and Them Report is the latest report in our Beyond Us and Them project looking at the effects of Covid-19 on social cohesion. Read the report here and explore the latest on the Beyond Us and Them project here.