“It’s not just the TNR activities that are going on; there’s a whole collection of groups doing things to support the community.”
Tisbury, a Wiltshire village with a population of around 2,400 people, is like a case study in community support initiatives. From solar electricity to health and safety, locals are in the habit of looking out for one another.
When local trumpeter Gustavo Montes de Oca heard of lockdown measures rolling out across the south-west, he teamed up with a local project manager and Tisbury Parish Council to create a volunteer support network and neighbourhood response service for vulnerable residents. “Tisbury has a lot of elderly residents, with a high level of vulnerability,” says Gustavo. “It’s also served by a fast train to London, which increases our levels of potential exposure.”
The partnership extended to include a former public health consultant and a virologist, and the team began by handing out leaflets asking for community support volunteers and encouraging requests for assistance. The response was impressive.
“The initial response was fantastic,” says Gustavo, “but then we realised we needed a way of receiving and processing all the requests.” The project needed a dedicated telephone line that provided a single point of contact so everyone knew where to go for help. It also needed to use a local number in order to demonstrate ownership of the project and maintain trust among the community.
Gustavo’s initial experience with phone system vendors wasn’t straightforward. “Their terms were too complicated, or way too inflexible,” he says. “They didn’t seem to get what we were trying to do and what we needed.”
From a Google search, Gustavo found RingCentral and was able to explain his needs to the team. “The RingCentral engineer had a look into what we were trying to set up and then diagnosed exactly what we needed and how it should work,” says Gustavo. “The process was as simple as we had intended.”
The project now operates seven days a week, with volunteers on the phones for three shifts a day. The ‘phone angels’ follow scripts to ascertain the needs of each caller, which they log in Google Forms pro forma. In turn, the forms populate a spreadsheet that serves as a CRM system, keeping track of requests and their allocations.
In its first two weeks, Tisbury Neighbourhood Response delivered 700 prescriptions to locals in need. By recording prescription orders throughout the day and submitting them as a batch, the effort drastically reduced the queues of people outside local pharmacies.
Gustavo, however, isn’t complacent about the work still to do; “The phones act as an early warning system,” he says. “They give us an indication that more people will be looking for prescription and food delivery, among other forms of support, in the near future.”
The catchment area of the village is around 6,000 people, and besides the elderly, TNR provides support to essential workers and people with health conditions that make them vulnerable. Support isn’t restricted to just food and medicine, either; the group also runs a rapid response service that can handle contamination and other safety hazards.
“We’ve actually saved one life so far, which we’re extremely relieved about,” says Gustavo. “An elderly gentleman in the village had fallen in his home and wasn’t able to get up. The neighbour called us saying they hadn’t seen him around for a couple of days, so a couple of guys went round and found him on the floor with two broken ribs. They were able to get him up, cook him a meal and arrange medical treatment for him.”
Inspiring stories like these are a tremendous reward for the effort TNR puts into helping out the community. The group isn’t alone, though: in addition to the TNR’s 300 volunteers, other groups provide support services to the community. The local parish, local schools, army cadets, brownies, the village hall, and other organisations form a network of services to offer help where it’s needed.
As Gustavo says, “People are still being good neighbours and looking after the people they know and that trust them already. We’re just providing that extra level of backup, as it were. This experience is bringing people together and raising a very strong community spirit.”
Tisbury Neighborhood Response is still welcoming requests for assistance, and encourages anyone who needs support to get in touch by phoning 01747 684010 or by visiting the website.
Originally published May 15, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023