As the nation adapts to further easing of lockdown, life at The Dons Local Action Group remains as hectic as ever.
In the latest Dons Local Action Group newsletter, Xavier Wiggins, one of the three co-founders, outlined details about a relaunch for this fantastic community project.
In 14 weeks since its inception, 20,635 weekly food boxes have been delivered to vulnerable people in Merton, Kingston, and Wandsworth, and over 500 computer devices have been provided for children to learn at home via the Keep Kids Connected project.
In case you missed it, Xavier’s full update from the newsletter is reproduced below.
Why do you feel that a relaunch is needed?
In our short three-month existence things have changed so much. We were initially reacting to COVID-19 based poverty and isolation. People found themselves suddenly in unfamiliar territory and we were there to take one major worry away from them with food packs to their door. We evolved and added support through tech, furniture, errands and we also increased our activity in different boroughs, thanks to volunteers. The scale of what we have created is vast and the profile of the people we are helping has changed.
We are now helping primarily with poverty. It doesn’t need to be “COVID-related". For whatever reason, people are finding themselves with some enormous financial challenges and we are offering various solutions. We are not here to offer long-term food support but we are there to supply emergency help, if support is unavailable from government or other long established groups and networks. We have supplied numerous devices to families via schools and demand still outweighs supply. We have intensified our support for people in terms of helping to improve their surroundings as London Furniture Collective is now very active.
We are providing ingredients for thousands of meals for the homeless and others in need. We are supplying colouring books and pencils to sick children in hospitals. We supply treats to kids at the Neuro Hospital and we continue to provide large scale food and toiletry support to partner groups. We supply nappies, baby food and more to families, but also to relevant specialist charities. And so much more. In short, we are bigger and more varied than we were and we need to communicate as clearly as possible what we are and what we do to volunteers, partners and to those we help. Whilst we need to remain nimble, we also need to be structured and relevant. We also need to keep volunteers engaged and on board as we enter the “new normal”.
A new volunteer ethos has woken in many and we need to have a structure that makes it easy for volunteers to offer help each week, not just whilst they are out of work. We need fundraising teams, procurement teams, volunteer on-boarders and trainers. We need mentors, collection point people, hub workers and drivers. We need phone teams, sixth form leaders, mums groups, chefs and coaches. All of this is easier with structure and a clarity of vision. The five segments will help with that clarity and our mission and vision, allied to a proper organisational structure, will help to make the group sustainable. We also need to keep one eye very firmly fixed on any second wave of Coronavirus and how we can continue to respond very quickly.
What do you think are the key achievements of the group so far?
There are so, so many. It would take several pages to do this question justice. But I will try and answer, in brief. I truly believe that there is a spirit in what we are all about. As a Wimbledon fan, I’d like to think that it is a spirit that we share with the football club. The barriers are high and the challenges are significant, but we have achieved so much. The numbers of packs and laptops are enormous. We have supplied 20,000 food packs. That is twice the capacity of the under-construction Plough Lane Stadium. There is a sense of fun and immense hard work at the core of what we do. A little like the old Crazy Gang.
One of our big words is “nimble”. We are so responsive as a group and react so quickly. I am determined that we continue to be nimble. Whether it is emergency food packs, helping out a family with a burnt-out house, or filling shifts at the very last minute, we are so quick to react positively to situations.
They say that you can be judged by the company you keep. And we keep incredible company. We work with so many wonderful organisations. From food banks to charities and from caring councillors to the emergency services. We are learning so much from them. One of our greatest achievements has been to create an organisation that so many people want to be part of, to partner with, and to talk about. We are on-boarding 10-20 new volunteers a day. We've been mentioned in virtually every local and national news outlet. That is some going.
How did you decide what the next version of DLAG would look like?
Through gathering lots and lots of feedback, via the Survey Monkey questionnaire and hundreds of conversations. What I have learned is that volunteers have really strong opinions on what we should do and how and they feel comfortable sharing those views. Again, we need to keep fostering that feeling as we move into the post-COVID permanent status. I have always said that DLAG would be shaped by the volunteers. As an organisation, one of our main strengths has been the ability to adapt and to build on what our volunteers feed back to us.
We are entering a really interesting time for the economy, for society, and for our communities. We can do nothing and sit there frightened, or we can be positive and create a powerful, supportive organisation for those who need us. We've chosen the latter and we are here for the long haul.
To volunteer for the Dons Local Action Group, contact 020 3301 4511 (9am-6pm), or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . If you can donate a computer device, please visit the Keep Kids Connected website .