Our Director’s Views: The Future of Community Hubs in East Sussex
Community Hubs have been established in each district and borough of East Sussex to support vulnerable and ‘shielded’ residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. They ensure that information, food and medicines are available to vulnerable people through a helpline, shopping support and food parcels. Vulnerable people are also referred by Hubs to other services such as mental health, befriending and financial support.
Hubs were set up at pace in the first weeks of the pandemic. They have supported many vulnerable people in challenging circumstances and brought about an acceleration in integration and partnership working across public, voluntary and private agencies. They have also helped mobilise a large number of volunteers, including NHS responders.
There is a commitment to retain the Hubs at least until August 2020 to allow for vulnerable people to continue to be supported as the lockdown eases. The risk of a second spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths over the summer may mean there is a need for the Hubs to continue from September.
The success of the Hubs has generated widespread interest across public and voluntary agencies in exploring the potential role of Hubs in the longer term, and not just for vulnerable people. East Sussex County Council are now working with the districts and boroughs, the NHS and voluntary sector to consider how the benefits of Hub working can be developed and sustained.
This will probably entail a ‘core offer’ for what each Hub offers to local residents and some co-ordination of Hub activity county wide. At the same time, different Hubs will have different priorities for supporting vulnerable people and how they might diversify this support to include more holistic plans and actions that help a whole community recover from the pandemic.
Potential priorities for Community Hubs if they survive longer term are likely to include a commitment to support and grow the wellbeing of a whole community through a blend of economic, social and environmental actions. Examples of this might be integrated health and care, business and employment support, environmental sustainability and housing related support.
The governance and funding arrangements for Hubs will require working through but there could be the potential for more integration, pooled budgets and more holistic services. Hubs can be a key part of a rethink on how volunteers are recruited, supported and deployed in the county, building upon the magnificent volunteer response to COVID-19 so far. However, there is also likely to be a drive for financial savings from all sides as we come out of the pandemic.
The success of Hubs to date has been in dealing with a limited number of actions for a relatively small vulnerable population. Hubs have not yet been the subject of any independent or objective evaluation involving members of the public. Despite these limitations, there are reasons to be optimistic that Community Hubs will play a valuable part in post pandemic East Sussex.