Friday August 7th

Under the leadership of a small core team, how one local community group rose to the challenge to help its residents during lockdown and the valuable insights and lessons learned that could help others to do the same.

Famed for its strategic importance in creating HG Wells’ literary, film and TV classic The World of the Worlds, and as the global headquarters for supercar maker McLaren, Horsell is a small village with a big name.

With a population of less than 10,000 people and a history dating as far back as the 12th century, Horsell is no sleepy village. In fact, it’s a thriving place which has shown it can really get things done, especially in a crisis.

When lockdown began in March, Horsell’s home-grown resilience group, Horsell Prepared, began harnessing the riches of a remarkable community spirit which helped hundreds of local people get the help they need to keep going.

Horsell Prepared is the well-organised arm of the long-established community group Horsell Residents’ Association which was formed in 1965 to provide a strong local voice, look after its environment and run a busy calendar of community events.

Now its official dedicated resilience arm, Horsell Prepared was formed just two years ago to formalise a plan of action for the village in the event of a local, national or international emergency or incident, despite scepticism from some about whether the group would be needed for anything beyond adverse weather conditions.

Fast forward two years, and in the midst of an emerging global pandemic, Horsell Prepared was quick to put its plan into action, mobilising an unprecedented 450 volunteers to step in and help.

With a dedicated helpline to match volunteers to specific calls for assistance, a phone buddy system for those in isolation, and making good use of the village’s active Facebook groups, as well as linking up 65 street level WhatsApp groups, the community response initiated was second to none in both speed and impact.

Led by eight dedicated volunteers and spearheaded by local residents Helen Cammack and Alan Taylor, the group – which also includes Woking Mayor Councillor Beryl Hunwicks – is roundly supported by strong governance, precision planning and a commitment to represent and serve its proud community. After a busy few months and an easing of lockdown restrictions, Horsell Prepared can at last reflect on the positive contribution it has made.

“While we have always been preparing for a range of emergencies, a global pandemic always seemed less likely than other scenarios,” Helen Cammack commented. “However, with careful scenario planning, training and through regular meetings, discussion and updates, our processes and technology meant we were well-prepared for every eventuality.”

“From collecting and delivering medicines and carrying out essential shopping and errands to providing advice, we’re extremely proud of the impact our organisation and our volunteers have made on the community and we are delighted by the positive response we’ve had,” Helen said.

Helen’s enthusiasm, business and technical know-how were major factors behind the group’s success – all of which was achieved alongside a freelance career and bringing up a young family.

“Among our many achievements, I’m really proud of how the helpline played such a pivotal role in helping those local residents who needed assistance with local day-to-day living and I’m extremely grateful to our amazing volunteer of duty managers led by Liz Grindon and Nancy Randall who provided much-needed fast and efficient support to more than 250 households in the area to deliver more than 700 valuable calls for help,” Helen said.

Alan Taylor said the Phone Buddy scheme linking volunteers to residents who felt lonely or isolated was also a key pillar in the organisation’s response. Introduced and managed by local resident Julie Gillis CB, it matched Horsell villagers with a friendly voice on the phone or by video call.

“Effective communications have proved a real asset right throughout the crisis,” said Alan.

“We managed to get leaflets through every door just before lockdown telling everyone about our service, which combined with a network of 65 street-by-street WhatsApp groups meant everyone was always connected. I’m really keen that these continue in the weeks and months ahead to further enhance and celebrate our wonderful community spirt.”

Embracing new technologies, the group have been regularly hosting virtual coffee mornings, keeping a growing number of residents in touch. “Keeping people regularly connected through our online coffee mornings has been really well received. It’s been great to see so many of the local community involved,” Alan said.

As part of the Horsell Residents’ Association, the new group was able to draw on its resources, governance and links, working hand-in-hand with local traders, groups across the community, including Horsell Care, Horsell Neighbourhood Watch, St. Mary’s Church, Woking Borough Council and others to deliver on its mission.

The organisation’s impact also spread beyond the boundaries of Horsell.

“In one case, we were delighted to be contacted by the family members of a local Horsell resident who lives in Wales and who were worried about their elderly parents self-isolating at home. With no travel allowed, we stepped in to help, ensuring that their needs were always met and so they didn’t have to worry,” Helen said.

Located just a short walk to the north-west of Woking town centre and renowned for the beauty of nearby Horsell Common as well as a wide range of independent shops, great local pubs serving food and cafés, Horsell has become a trailblazer for community spirit and engagement.

“Horsell is a beautiful, unique place with a long history of community initiatives and everyone has an interest in keeping it great – and we’re really proud to shout about that,” Helen said.

For more information on Horsell Prepared, visit https://bit.ly/horsell.

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