Keeping people connected – SHAK supports the community

Keeping people connected – SHAK supports the community

Keeping people connected – SHAK supports the community 1920 1280 WeMakeCamden

South Hampstead and Kilburn Community Partnership (SHAK) is a local organisation that, like many, has adapted to support residents since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Based on the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate, SHAK was nominated by residents in recognition for their work in providing support with food shopping and keeping people connected. 

We spoke with Chief Executive John Boyle, who explained how SHAK has helped to make a real difference to local residents.

What has been SHAK’s role in the pandemic and what inspired you to get involved?

When we realised we were in a crisis, we asked ourselves, “What are we here for?” and “What can we do?” We knew we had to be there for people, and couldn’t just pull the shutters down. We’ve done things we’ve never done before, like coordinating people to help with food shopping, and taking activities online.

We’ve worked to reach out and maintain connections when we couldn’t bring people together, including linking people up with each other in their community. More recently, we have been part of the recovery effort by organising vaccine pop-up sessions and a community conversation online.

“We knew we had to be there for people, and couldn’t just pull the shutters down.”

Chief Executive of SHAK, John Boyle

What challenges has SHAK faced?

The biggest challenges have been adapting to the changing restrictions, and also to people’s different sensitivities and needs.

At the start, we had to learn to reach people in new ways when people have always come to us face-to-face, but we adapted well to online meetings and doing more over the phone, along with other organisations. 

Now it’s tricky getting the balance right. Some people crave in-person interaction, and wanted us to open up as soon as possible, while some people are understandably still very nervous about things. We have to be really flexible to make sure we’re meeting everyone’s needs.

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

I live near SHAK, and for the first few months would meet people wandering the nearly empty streets who were confused and panicked about what to do and where to go. I helped to point them in the right direction to services and people who could help.

Through these interactions I recognised the value of us being here for people. More recently, we were able to hold a community event for the first time in a long time, which was very special.

What is the main thing you have learned since the pandemic began?

We’ve got to be flexible and adapt to respond to the needs of people around us. That’s what we’re ultimately here for. 

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope that we can get back to some kind of normal soon this will make things a lot easier for us. There’s been more recognition in our area for the role organisations like ours play, but we also have to look at our ‘post-pandemic’ development. There’s going to be a lot of issues arising out of this, but we can play a significant part in helping to piece people’s lives back together.

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

I’d like to see organisations and people working together over the longer term and maintaining that impetus and energy to make a difference as we start to recover. We’ve got to now repair a lot of the damage that has been done by the pandemic.

Before this, I think that society was becoming more individualistic, and the pandemic has reminded people of the value of community. We need to get people motivated to get more involved and feel they can play a part in recovery.

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

Sidings Community Centre have done a great deal for the community – we’ve been in contact a lot around supporting their food hub. Abbey Community Centre for helping with the vaccination process.

How can people get support from SHAK or get involved?

If you live in the Kilburn/South Hampstead area and need any help, call SHAK on 0300 365 2003. Visit SHAK’s website to find out about activities and events for young people and adults. SHAK is always on the lookout for volunteers, and you can also support their work by donating.

Photo credits: TBC, feature photo by Joel Muniz

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