COVID Communications: UK Simon Community

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Contributed date

June 27, 2020 - 4:24pm

Critical Commentary

This document is a briefing note that explores transnational perspectives on risk communication, drawing on discussion in the COVID-19 Transnational Disaster STS Project Design Group.  The briefing note addresses the Simon Community Board of Trustees in the UK's Stage 3 re-opening in June 2020.  Amanda Windle recieved permission from the Simon Community Board to openly share this briefing, contributing to sustained, transnational effort to develop effective and appropriate COVD communications.  

The Simon Community has been working since 1963 to alleviate the isolation of people sleeping rough, provide a place where they can gain a sense of belonging and foster the skills they need to move towards independent living. Within the therapeutic community are homeless people and volunteers living and working together in a spirit of love, acceptance, tolerance and understanding. The aim of the community is to reach out to support and campaign for people who are experiencing homelessness, and particularly those for whom no other provision exists.

This briefing was prepared for the second formal Board meeting held remotely during the COVID-19 lockdown down. There have been informal meetings and rapid response groups using WhatsApp, Signal, Zoom and Skype. The twice monthly meeting include ‘risk’ as a standing item and a risk register is updated and reviewed both operationally and strategically. This risk register helps the charity to discuss incidents, amend policy, and stay within the legal and insurance requirements for handling food, running a residential project, winter shelter, evening centres, street cafes and street-work, and so on.  Risk items are wide-ranging from what to do in a terrorist attack, to notifying and fixing a fire door. During the pandemic, Covid-19 is more than an additional row in the Excel-tabled risk register, which tables ownership, matters arising and links to government guidance, COSSH regulations and so on. As England (and not Scotland) emerge out of the UK, following guidance for safety is as it was at the start of the pandemic a time for navigating the ambiguity or lack of advice. The charity started to act on working out their own measures from the 11th March, and was in a form of lockdown by the 15th March, a week a head of the official lockdown. Shelter guests were prepared to shelter outside and follow-up for places in hotel rooms happened soon after. Taskforces and coalitions emerged joining up council work  to handle the gaps each could or couldn’t provide as the government was slow to release information on public liability for volunteering on the 24th March.

In this briefing, advice from both the 2014 Ebola crisis and the COVID pandemic are brought in, giving the Simon Community comparative perspective for their own planning.