The Village Hub has landed on Devonport Road in Stoke.

If you thought it was impossible to make a difference in your local area, you might never expect something as devastating as the Covid crisis to create opportunities for change in your local community.

However, thanks to funding from the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, distributed by The National Lottery Community Fund, a group of enthusiastic residents of Stoke and Morice Town have exceeded their expectations to come together and increase the glue that holds communities robustly able to withstand such crises.

The group, enabled by the Plymouth Octopus Project set up a helpline for local people to reach out if they needed support to access food, prescriptions, and postal services whilst they were self-isolating.

This led quickly to the realisation that having a physical space made the work of the group more visible and increased community connections.

The group were members of The Stoke Traders and Residents Association, who successfully applied to the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, enabling them to move into an empty shop in Stoke Village.

After being empty for over five years, the shop needed a huge amount of work done. An arrangement was made with the landlord and tenant to sublet to the community organisation and offer a rent free period in return for covering the costs of repairs. The Community went to work and decided on a new name, The Village Hub.

Despite a delay in getting the electricity supply reconnected, the teammoved in without light, using a mobile hotspot to access numerous zoom calls, delivering training and necessary information to run a community hub safely, especially in these difficult times. They also made countless trips to the tip with the previous contents, as the shop had been left as an unfinished building site for the last five years, and reclaimed the back garden from a jungle of weeds and buddleias. Being neighbourly they reclaimed the neighbours back garden as well.

All this activity, done with the front door open – a policy the Hub will continue – has resulted in many local people popping their head in, offering their services and sharing the good news that something positive is happening in the Village.

The Hub has attracted 10 more volunteers, several of whom are visiting on an almost daily basis to break up the monotony and loneliness of lockdown lifestyles. Now that the electric is finally on and the first fix electrical repairs completed, the Hub is eagerly awaiting a new accessible toilet and kitchenette area, ceilings and windows repaired and walls plastered by professionals ably assisted by volunteers.

The Hub is presently being constituted as a Community Benefit Society (lots more zoom learning there!) with support from Real Ideas Organisation and Plymouth Social Enterprise Network.

Whilst the phone calls continue to come in from people who are struggling to access food and supplies, the Hub team are developing new strategies to connect meaningfully with local people.

They have carried out surveys and drop ins to help give voice to some of the needs of the area. Top of the wish list are activities for young people, family friendly creative activities, support with form filling and admin tasks for the self employed and unemployed, ways to make new friends and have fun and ways to connect with nature.

Whilst the weather was warmer and we could still gather outside, the team organised community blackberry picking, pebble painting and hunting, and story telling in the park which attracted families with young children to get outside and try something different.

They have raised funds via the Green Minds Programme to develop an overarching permaculture plan for the Blockhouse Park, create an open air classroom in a wild space in the park and purchase reconditioned tools for the volunteers to use as well as to hire out to local people. And they have already been out planting Cornish variety daffodil bulbs around the Village.

They have had training on debt advice and support for the newly unemployed, on how to recognise and avoid scams, and learning around safeguarding and GDPR to help keep everyone and their information safe.

They have run the first of many online/offline zoom community meetings making them more accessible. And in partnership with local entrepreneur Dan Russell, they hope to fit out a digital hub to help with digital skills, accessing the internet and as work space for fledgling businesses to take their first steps.

And just recently they have brokered a partnership with https://goodearthgrowers.co.uk/ to explore getting organic fruit and vegetables into the area for local people to pick up and for those on low incomes to try for free.

Still to come is a new interactive website with training for community members to write their own stories and blogs, and a special Christmas card to be distributed to all the households in the area with details of how to access the support that’s out there.

The Village Hub hope to build on all the relationships that keep our community strong, making sure no one gets left behind as we navigate the stormy seas of the new normal.