Cumbria County Council: Reaching and supporting the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic brought an urgent need to provide support and assistance to families and individuals struggling with a wide range of issues across Cumbria County Council’s 2,613 square miles. The launch of a one-stop support helpline proved key in communicating important information and providing access to essential services. To date, more than 27,000 residents have been supported by the council’s COVID-19 emergency helpline.

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The challenge

Supporting people at high risk of becoming seriously ill, because of COVID-19, who do not have assistance from family, friends or neighbours.

Making essential services visible to the most vulnerable residents in a largely rural county, including those designated as clinically extremely vulnerable.

This later developed into providing emergency PPE support to front line services, care homes and schools; operating a test and trace line and direct financial support for those experiencing hardship.

The solution

The emergency support helpline was set up in March 2020 and offered support with access to food, pharmacy and other essential items.

It worked alongside six Area Support Hubs opened in response to the pandemic. Every area co-ordinated a supply of essential food, medicines and supplies which could be accessed via the emergency helpline or email.

Cumbria County Council worked closely with District Councils, CVS, Cumbria Community Foundation, community and voluntary sector, private sector and military to establish new arrangements. The helpline was initially staffed by a combination of 17 Cumbria County Council employees from the Highways hotline, Waste, complaints and Library teams, and volunteers from Sellafield and Direct Rail Services.

The helpline is available seven days a week by phone, online and by email and is widely promoted as a first route to support for those in need who do not have the help of family, friends or neighbours.

The most common initial requests were for medication and prescription collections, food supplies and from family members who were isolating or shielding themselves and who would normally provide care to relatives.

As the pandemic progressed, the support line was broadened to help in areas of growing need.

In April, the council added in emergency PPE support to front line services, care homes and schools.

In May, the test and trace line opened to support the local test and trace service. After the first lockdown this became the first point of contact for returning schools to report COVID cases and arrange testing for students and staff unable to obtain them through the national system.

In December, the helpline introduced a scheme to support families or individuals being asked to self-isolate outside of the national test and trace system. The scheme was reviewed at the start of lockdown 3 and the COVID-19 support payment scheme was introduced to assist those who have been affected financially with a one-off payment.

The council’s ‘Ways to Welfare’ scheme has also been reinvigorated and incorporated as part of the support line - referring people with a variety of concerns, including a significant increase in those struggling with mental health and domestic violence issues, as well as help with energy and food costs, and access to furniture and white goods.

The impact

The emergency support line has reached more than 27,000 people seeking help, guidance or information since launch.

1,998 requests have been logged to deliver emergency PPE to care homes, care workers, schools and frontline county council staff.

On test and trace, almost 3,000 organisations have now linked through the local system. There have been 32,000 COVID-19 cases, with 2,900 logged for schools.

The support payment scheme to help those who have been financially affected, has issued 252 grants totalling £28,820 to date.

And the council has also made more than 1,200 Ways to Welfare payments, totalling more than £82,000.

Coun Deborah Earl, Cabinet Member for Public Health and Communities, said: “Our Emergency Support Helpline continues to offer a lifeline to vulnerable people who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill, because of COVID-19.

“We are continuing to work alongside local businesses, community groups, volunteers and redeployed employees to support vulnerable people in our local communities, particularly those shielding.

“I am pleased that this support line has been able to help so many people – from providing information and guidance on shielding, to delivering medicines and helping with food shopping, as well as the financial support provided to those struggling as a result of the pandemic.”

How is the new approach being sustained?

The service is currently being delivered by a core team of 4 FTEs with support from the wider Highways and Waste teams, a total of 13 staff.

The helpline operates Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and 10am to 2pm at weekends and Bank Holidays. The service also accepts referrals from members of the public who may be concerned about people in their community.

Lessons learned

In the early days of the pandemic, Cumbria’s six Area Support Hubs were crucial in enabling people to quickly access information and support. As the period of restrictions continued and the scope of issues widened it was paramount that a central service for receiving and distributing information was established to enable the county council to maintain an overview of demand and community need.

This enabled a standard model of delivery and approach to be adopted. Best practice in how to work alongside partners and volunteer services reduced duplication of effort and streamlined response.

Communicating the helpline’s existence and services across multiple media was vital in ensuring a deep reach into the county’s 500,000 population. This included 3,000 COVID-related social media posts, video messages, three leaflet drops to every household in Cumbria, radio promotion, 20+ media releases related to welfare and ongoing staff and member briefings.


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Find out more

Cumbria County Council: Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice and information