As I wrote in my previous article (HIP Issue 48: Hastings’ Response to a Crisis), the Hastings Emergency Action Response Team (HEART) has emerged as a galvanising force for action. The initial impetus has evolved into a collaboration with Hastings Borough Council, Hastings Voluntary Action, the NHS commissioning groups, food banks, Heart of Hastings, Neighbourhood watch, etc.

While all sorts of other groups have sprung into action such as Isolation Station providing online entertainment and Arts on Prescription providing creative opportunities, HEART has been busy working behind the scenes, setting up a robust response that can provide a safe and comprehensive local hub for practical support with people self-isolating.

The initial face of HEART was its Facebook page, but as one of its founders, Alastair Fairley commented: “The Facebook page has served its purpose of enlisting volunteers. It’s limited in what it can do.” 

A great deal of work has been put into setting up a website and despite technical difficulties – involving calling in the help of East Sussex College – it is now up and running at www.hastings There you can find answers to what HEART is, how it operates, who is behind it, etc. More importantly, it has a form for people to request help, and currently contains information on such things as health and wellbeing and local food suppliers. 

Now up and running, this will expand over time to include such things as proforma letters to make it easier for people to apply for what they need and deal with the inevitable bureaucracy that will emerge.

A lot of work also went into such issues as health and safety: with so many people involved it’s important not to endanger either the volunteers or the people they are seeking to help. Work is also well under way to match people up with those needing help. 

Currently there are about 40 volunteer coordinators operating area by area. These are being kept local where possible to promote cohesion, some perhaps known to volunteers. Almost 1,000 volunteers have signed up to help where they can.

A lot of what HEART will be doing is signposting people to the right place for their needs. But very importantly it aims to react to community needs as they arise, trying to ensure that nobody is left out: for example, they are producing cards that volunteers can post through letterboxes with their contact number where there has been no response.

How to manage money is another big issue. When shopping for others, it isn’t considered appropriate to use cash – OK on a small scale but not when large sums might be involved. After considerable research, they have chosen to go with Pockit prepaid cards: it’s easy to apply for with a simple form and costs just 99p per month. 

“The whole thing will develop and grow,” says Alastair. “It’s been a lot of work to set up a robust solution, but once set up it will always be there for any repeat.

“And in the end,” he says: “Lots of people just want a friendly person to talk to”.

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