How has the pandemic affected the local voluntary sector? This is the first of a two part series where Covid-19 Community Reporter Paris Ali-Pilling interviews Sandra Hall, Chair of Chat Over Chai, a community group to support health and wellbeing.
Interview transcribed by Angela Cheverton.
Paris Ali-Pilling: Could you tell me a bit about the group and what it does?
Sandra Hall: We’re a chat group. We help people with all different types of situations. Some people are isolated, some people are vulnerable, they have disabilities, so it’s generally a group from [the] ages of 30 to 75 years old. We run programs at the chat group, talks around health and wellbeing, and sometimes we have guest speakers [and] we run training programs. Last year we had Google Garage come in to do a training program with us about how to use the internet and all the applications that you could do with Google.
At the moment, we don’t have any current projects that we are working on, but we’re always open to projects in the city that will help community life, will help integration, will end isolation, so we’re always on the lookout for projects. We were involved last year with the D Day Museum project, and also a project called Chatterbox.
What has been the impact of lockdown on the group?
None of the group expected it would be this long. Some of the ladies said, ‘Oh, it will only be for a couple of weeks, and then we’ll get back and we’ll be able to continue.’ None of us expected it to be this long. It was really difficult in the early days, we were not prepared. I don’t think any of us knew how this was going to pan out. There was a lot of fear about going out, doing everyday tasks even, like getting your shopping. You normally just go out, you take a walk, and you go down to the supermarket or you bring in your supplies, but it was all difficult.
There was that worry especially about the older folk who lived on their own. How did they get medicine, how do they get their food into the homes? Also, there was no family to care for them. If you’re living on your own, you’re very dependent on going to groups like Chat Over Chai or coffee shops or places where you could meet other people to chat and share your life with them. I think that was really missed, and a lot of people have sunk into a little bit of depression during that time so it did impact us. Also, as a group, we couldn’t do those things that we were planning to do. We had speakers planned, we had things all lined up but all that had to come to an end.
How has the pandemic affected the mental health of the group?
I did speak a little bit about fear and anxiety. But if we [are to] understand about being locked down in a home, maybe a small family home, maybe you have one television, maybe have one bathroom, there’s added pressures of everybody being at home all the time. You have to – as a mother – feed them, you have to help them with their schoolwork, you’re constantly thinking about the need to keep the house clean and it could become a very pressured situation.
But I also want to highlight that if you were in a situation where there was domestic abuse, these things were heightened because you didn’t have anywhere to go, you couldn’t call a person, or you couldn’t visit a [safe] place or a coffee house where you could have a friendly chat and just have some time out from it. I think those are the things which really impacted folk, as well as job loss.
There were folks who were furloughed, and then later found out they’re made redundant. [People] do have some funding from the government to help with [their] needs, but [there] is still a pressure about how you’re going to continue. What do you do? How are you going to support your family? It could be middle-aged folk, then how are they going to retrain to find different work? Or lots of people run businesses [that] were greatly affected.
It really impacted folk’s anxiety levels. And not being able to go to a group like Chat Over Chai where we talk about things, we chat to people, we engage with people on their everyday life and if there were needs, then we could signpost them to various organizations where they can get help, [but that couldn’t happen].
I also want to highlight the young people, 18 to 24 year olds, graduates who are at home and can’t find work as well. You’ve spent three years at university, and you’re hoping to find work and then suddenly everything is shut. I have four people now living at home. You might have had finances for just your husband or wife and suddenly, everyone’s come back home to live, and so it does put pressure on you to be able to support [your family].
I think it’s just a worry when you don’t have a regular income, or suddenly it’s reduced. Maybe they [had] a small part time job to add to the existing income and suddenly, that’s gone. So, you [have] got a smaller amount and you have to feed everybody in the family, you have to plan meals that will go and stretch a long way. All those sorts of things.
Was Chat Over Chai able to get any funding to help with the group?
No, we didn’t have any access to funding. We are a small group at the moment. We are looking at different ways. We are supported in some way by Mustard Seeds, and Oasis Church normally helps to pay our rent and refreshments. But they did tell us that if people needed help, and we knew of anyone who was particularly struggling, we could refer them to Mustard Seeds or Oasis, and they had some supermarket vouchers which we could have for them. They would be able to help people with the groceries. But as a group, if we knew of anybody struggling or needed financial help and we could support them, then we would have gone out of our way.
As a group we help the Lifehouse. We regularly give donations, everyone is really generous from the Chat Over Chai group.
We don’t get any other funding except if folk decide to give a donation in or we make a special collection, we’re still a small group that is just starting out. We’ve only become independent over a year and we’re looking for funds ourselves to help and support people.
Were you able to stay connected with the group during lockdown and how did you do that?
That was one of the real positive things that have come about, with our WhatsApp group. We really tried to use that time to build the community. We posted regular WhatsApp messages and we found that people were really looking for how to manage their home life, cooking and gardening became a real, wonderful thing for us to do. People had more time at home, they could cook, so we used to post recipes.
The [group] posted pictures of working in the garden or starting little home gardens and we gave them encouragement. Really strong friendships have started through that WhatsApp group. They’re really thankful that we still have that opportunity to connect with folk on WhatsApp and Zoom as well. Zoom has become more popular as well and we now try to meet as a committee on Zoom as well. These things have really been life-changing. I don’t think any of us thought we would be using Zoom. But it’s become a way that we can communicate, and see, and talk to people face to face.
S&C has been awarded funding from the European Journalism Centre Covid-19 Support Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on diverse communities and sectors in Portsmouth:
- voluntary sector, including charities, community groups and social enterprises
- small businesses and self-employed people
- BAME communities
- people with disabilities
We have also been awarded funding from the Public Interest News Foundation Emergency Fund to explore the social impact of Covid-19 on migrants, and asylum seekers and refugees.