Holly Lodge Estate residents team up to offer COVID-19 support

Holly Lodge Estate residents team up to offer COVID-19 support

Holly Lodge Estate residents team up to offer COVID-19 support 1920 1078 WeMakeCamden

Residents on Holly Lodge Estate in Highgate pulled together when the pandemic began and have been supporting each other and the wider community ever since.

As part of our community recognition campaign, we spoke to Barbara Wheatley (Estate Manager), Cherie Morgan (resident volunteer), Roger Elliott (Secretary of the Tenant and Resident Association and Trustee of Holly Lodge Community Centre) and Grace Livingstone (Co-Chair of the Tenant and Resident Association and Trustee of the Holly Lodge Community Centre).

What has been your role in the pandemic and what inspired you to get involved?

Grace: It was a very scary time and everyone was dealing with their own issues, their families, their children, their parents, or their work. Despite that, when we put up posters and sent an email to residents asking for volunteers, we were overwhelmed with the response. Within the first week we had set up a block rep system, with at least one volunteer in each block of flats as the contact point for anyone who needed shopping, help or just a friendly chat.

Barbara: More than 100 neighbours volunteered to help elderly and vulnerable neighbours – shopping, making meals, collecting prescriptions or phoning to have a chat. We set up a WhatsApp group so people could ask for or offer help, which is still going strong. 

An ICU nurse at the Royal Free Hospital asked for a delivery of bottles of water because water fountains were shut and with all the PPE they had to put on and off, they couldn’t get out during breaks.

Cherie: Realising how difficult it was for ICU staff, I got together with some neighbours to help. As well as bottles of water, we delivered cooked meals and high-energy protein bars, and neighbours wrote messages of appreciation on packs of brownies. The nearly £10,000 we raised from residents’ donations also helped to create a ‘wobble room’ to give staff a quiet place to go, with massage chairs and relaxing activities. 

There was a need for help with organising hospital PPE and other stockroom supplies, so a group of volunteers who had DBS clearance helped with that.   

Roger: Everything we do at the community centre had to be cancelled. It became a question of what we could do with our resources. We were relieved when Camden Council asked if the centre could be used for Highgate Newtown Community Centre’s food hub. We turned a grit bin on the estate into a food donation box and from the first day, it was full.

What challenges have you faced?

Barbara: The biggest challenge has been coordinating people – with so much good will, it was in danger of becoming chaotic at the beginning. 

Roger: That’s why we sat down to organise it properly, set up the block rep system, and the WhatsApp group.

Grace: Safety was a challenge. In that first week we had to stay calm and look at the safest way to do things, within government guidelines, to channel that energy.

What’s your most memorable moment from your activities supporting Camden communities during the pandemic?

Cherie: I’d never felt such stress as during the first lockdown, with three children out of school and working from home. But I knew we were in the safer group, so I thought, ‘How can I help?’ Hearing from the Royal Free nurse, I’d never been so moved and saw there were more important things than if my kids finished their maths. I’m so pleased that I’ve been able to volunteer, and feel lucky compared to those in hospitals.  

Barbara: People thought that the pandemic would be over by Christmas, but instead it felt 10 times worse. Along with everyone’s plans, the community centre’s Christmas party was cancelled. Grace came up with the idea to bring COVID-safe festive cheer. We turned a gardening buggy into a sleigh, and Father Christmas and elves delivered presents to the estate’s children. The sleigh’s lights and music brought neighbours to their doorsteps, everyone was overjoyed.  

Grace: At Christmas, everyone was feeling down because we were in the middle of the second wave. With the amazing help of a few people, this little idea became a magical event. People also sang carols and rang bells on their doorsteps or balconies. 

Roger: Our community centre manager arranged a Zoom party for volunteers with donated drinks and goodie bags, and we did a quiz. It was great fun and an opportunity to meet each other.

“I’ve learned what it means to be part of a community.

Grace Livingstone, Co-Chair of the Tenant and Resident Association and Trustee of the Holly Lodge Community Centre. 

What is the main thing you have learned from the pandemic period?

Grace: I’ve learned what it means to be part of a community. People were just waiting for the opportunity to get involved and stepped up when it mattered. I’ve got to know so many more people here.

Cherie: I struggled to find a sense of community in London, coming from Denmark, but for the first time I’ve seen it. It’s incredible and a positive to come out of the darkest times.

What are your hopes for the future?

Roger: We want to get the community centre back up and running. We used to have a Monday lunch club for over 30 people, a film club, children’s activities and lots of groups like yoga and pilates. People want to set up their groups again and we want to do more for the youth on and around the estate who have had such a hard time.

Grace: We also want to expand our community food co-op set up as part of Cooperation Town, to provide free and low-cost food from surplus and bulk supplies. 

Barbara: We really want to host a ‘thank you’ party to celebrate all our volunteers, depending on the situation.

What one change would make the greatest difference for Camden as we come out of the pandemic?

Cherie: Young people’s mental health needs to be focused on. I’m a trainee psychologist and was on placement at the Brandon Centre in Kentish Town. I’m so aware of what teenagers have gone through at a really vulnerable time – they’re not made to deal with social isolation. This has meant such demand for support and an enormous cases backlog. 

Grace: There’s many issues that existed before the pandemic, like food hunger and healthcare – we need to sort these out more than ever. So many older people experience loneliness, and there needs to be wider outreach. The pandemic has encouraged people to cycle, so I think cycling should be encouraged more in Camden.

Roger: We need more support for community centres and youth schemes. The pandemic has shown their importance – without community hubs, it would have been much harder to respond.

Is there an organisation or group you would like to see recognised for their support for people in Camden during the pandemic?

Roger: Highgate Newtown Community Centre has been a tower of strength. 

Cherie: Everyone who works at the ICU at the Royal Free deserves recognition. I cannot imagine working 12 to 16 hour days on your feet, isolating from family, and dealing with that amount of death. Being able to help in a tiny way spurred us on.

How can you get involved in your local Tenant and Resident Association?

Find out more about Tenant and Resident Associations in Camden and find your nearest at camden.gov.uk/TRA

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