Inverclyde has been one of Scotland’s hardest hit areas by coronavirus. Here we find out how National Lottery funded project, and recent ‘Shed of the Year’ winner, The Inverclyde Shed has adjusted. Chairperson, Bruce Newlands, shares his words of wisdom for other community projects who may feel anxiety about changing their model of working during these uncertain times.
National Lottery funded The Inverclyde Shed
“In many ways and without perhaps realising it, we had managed to build some organisational resilience for the coming pandemic, but we couldn’t have predicted the personal toll it would take.”
The Inverclyde Shed is focused around people facing isolation, anxiety and loneliness meeting in a friendly space, learning from one another through peer-to-peer support and having fun working on projects that benefit others. The key part of the project is the ’shed’ itself, physical spaces where people can meet, make & share. Our spaces include tools but also provide opportunities for social connection whether over a cuppa or chatting ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ whilst working on projects.
In 2020, we have secured five years of National Lottery ‘Improving Lives’ funding for our spaces and we have managed to take on an external space, our Gourock Shore Street community garden, through a National Lottery Awards for All award.
In many ways and without perhaps realising it, we had managed to build some organisational resilience for the coming pandemic, but we couldn’t have predicted the personal toll it would take.
The toll of lockdown on the Shed
Lockdown meant closing our indoor shed spaces to everyone. The spaces were not laid out for social distancing and we felt that our user group were predominantly older men with underlying health issues, which the early impact of the pandemic identified as being particularly at risk. The following concentration of the virus in Inverclyde only strengthened the board’s belief that this was the right thing to do.
Losing access to the shed, the ability to physically meet each other and having practical things to do was a massive blow. The spaces are at the heart of what we do and many members were devastated at the news of the temporary closure.
Springing into action: The immediate response to lockdown
After lockdown hit, our garden – a publicly accessible external space – remained open but with only a few members able to visit and for limited periods in line with exercising during lockdown. Many of our members were shielding and so didn’t have access to even external spaces.
We quickly realised that we’d need to invest in video conferencing technology to adapt to lockdown, so we got a subscription and held a ‘virtual shed’ every week. We arranged for carving kits and practical books to be delivered to members so that we could give people things to do during lockdown and people could compare, learn and develop their skills via the video conferencing each week on top of general contact and chat. Members were also encouraged to call one another, and we checked up on our most vulnerable members.
It was apparent that there was an IT skills gap with some of the older members but we also saw things like an 85-year-old member, who’d previously been adverse to technology, adopt a mobile phone and connect via zoom.
However, the lack of human contact has had a huge impact on our members; it has and continues to have a negative impact on mental health. We quickly realised that our ’shoulder to shoulder’ way of providing peer support doesn’t fully work via telephone or online as both platforms lack humanity through a knowing look, smile or relaxed silence.
Reintroducing physical spaces safely
Now that we’re in Phase 3, our shed spaces at Captain Street have been completely re-organised to enable safe socially distanced working distances and we will be investing in an online appointment software to manage numbers/availability.
We have started doing limited induction workshops with members, these are socially distanced and limited in numbers and go through new protocols for working in the shed when we re-open.
We have now expanded our community garden space to provide greater opportunity for members in the future for recreation, physical exercise and to improve mental wellbeing.
We’ve extended our network to include a Gourock Digital Shed, using software and online communication for people to collaborate on projects and using technologies like 3D printers and laser cutters to produce work. The digital shed minimises physical contact but also attracts a younger demographic, particularly people that may have skills in electronics and design who are socially excluded.
Recently, we also progressed our community asset transfer for a larger shed space at East Blackhall Street that would enable safer, ventilated, socially distanced working arrangements as we continue our work.
The ‘new normal’ and looking forward
“In terms of advice for other community projects feeling anxiety about changing services I’d say: Hope and creativity, we look for it in small things. It’s easy to be despondent about the ‘new normal’ and how impersonal it could be, but we need to think our way through this and continue to adapt.”
We are unclear whether the ‘new normal’ will ever replicate what we had, many members have commented on a feeling that they have lost something that won’t be recovered. However, we will continue to review what we’re doing and think creatively about how we can diversity what we do to suit our members’ needs.
The support from The National Lottery Community Fund has put us in a good position to build our long-term future, that future may be different to what we have envisioned but we can see opportunities and will experiment more.
In terms of advice for other community projects feeling anxiety about changing services I’d say: Hope and creativity, we look for it in small things. It’s easy to be despondent about the ‘new normal’ and how impersonal it could be, but we need to think our way through this and continue to adapt.
For latest Scottish Government guidance on COVID-19, and for information and advice please visit their website.