Covid-19 Action Fund winners: community response

The Covid-19 Action Fund provides grants for Churchill Fellows to run projects combatting the effects of Covid-19 in all areas of society. Hundreds of pandemic projects nationwide are being run or assisted by Churchill Fellows, using the international expertise they gained during their Fellowships overseas. Here are the Action Fund recipients working on community response issues.

December 2020 awards 

Esther Foreman: equipping new community group leaders to respond to the pandemic


There are currently over 3,300 community-led groups in the UK responding to the effects of the pandemic and supporting their communities. Many of these emerged during the pandemic, with hundreds of mutual aid groups being created almost overnight. These new grassroots groups and their leaders had to respond very quickly to urgent need, without many foundations in place and often little or no experience in how to seek funding, raise awareness of their work or reach their wider community.

Esther Foreman from Brent in London is the Founder and the CEO of The Social Change Agency, and the Social Change Nest which offers consulting, training and communications help to movements creating social change. She is also co- founder of her local mutual aid group. During the pandemic, her organisation has supported over 300 new community leaders and groups across the UK to raise and manage finances transparently inside communities.

She will use her grant to expand this work, providing long-term support for these and other groups, through creating a national network of new community leaders to share experiences and learn from each other. Additionally she will develop online resources and provide training on how to build local funds, manage volunteers, work with the voluntary sector, run food banks and more. She hopes this will lead to an increase in community-led resilience. Esther's Churchill Fellowship to Australia, Canada and New Zealand in 2013 explored how activists can use their personal experience to effect change.

View Esther's profile 

Funda Kemal: reusing empty buildings to provide community services 


During the pandemic, many community services have had to reduce their work, adapt it online or even stop entirely due to social distancing requirements and the lack of safe spaces to provide them. Certain vulnerable groups (such as those experiencing domestic abuse, those with inadequate access to food, the homeless or those living with mental illness) have been highly impacted by this, in not having a safe space to meet. At the same time there are numerous derelict, empty or underused buildings around the UK.

Funda Kemal from Bath is an architect and urban designer.

She will use her grant to identify these lost or forgotten buildings which could be transformed into safe spaces, and develop two pilot projects to enable two local charities to resume support services. She will initially map and survey these buildings and premises in her own city, Bath, profile them for their suitability to meet the needs of the city's vulnerable community, and then develop her findings into practical proposals to deliver the two pilot projects. She hopes these projects could be replicated around the UK, building both community resilience and sustainability. Funda's Churchill Fellowship to Canada, Germany, Mexico and the USA in 2005 explored community and conservation-based regeneration projects.

View Funda's profile 

June 2020 awards

Melvin Hartley: learning from voluntary community response during the pandemic


In response to the Covid-19 crisis, there has been an outpouring of voluntary community action to support those who are in need at this time. Much of this action has arisen spontaneously, with varying degrees of coordination and success.

Melvin Hartley from Portsmouth is a local council resilience manager who, on behalf of Eastleigh Borough Council in Hampshire, has been leading a coordinated project to engage and work with local spontaneous volunteers to deliver aid and assistance to people in need in the community. This includes setting up a Local Response Centre to act as the central coordination point for organising the delivery of help, and engaging via social media with over 2,000 spontaneous volunteers to form the entire delivery arm of the operation. This has been successful, yet the practice of engaging with spontaneous volunteers varies across different local authorities and, in some cases, doesn't happen at all.

Melvin will use his grant to gather learnings and best practice from his council's response, as well as that of other localised responses across the UK, in order to make recommendations to the Civil Contingencies Secretariat who write national guidance. He will do this by conducting an extensive online survey of spontaneous volunteers working across the whole of the UK during the crisis, and by identifying a range of projects within the UK as case studies of best practice. He will share his findings via the creation of a dedicated website and report, with local resilience forums, emergency planning bodies and councils, in order to guide them during ongoing and future crises. Melvin's Churchill Fellowship to Germany, the Netherlands and the USA, investigated how to engage spontaneous volunteers in emergencies.

View Melvin's profile

Find out more about the Covid-19 Action Fund winners

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