When the COVID-19 lockdown began, Oxford Hub knew it had to act. Within days, Oxford Together had sprung up: the city’s community response to the pandemic, bringing people together to help each other. Oxford City Council collaborated with them to deliver services across the city to help those in need.  

As Oxford Together progressed, and the impact became clear Oxford Hub teamed up with Arts at the Old Fire Station to collect stories from 32 people involved – as volunteers, those in need, community organisers, Oxford City Council employees and Oxford Hub staff.   

The stories paint a vivid picture of a city coming together under lockdown. What’s it like to be the only student left in your college? To be at the front-line of a service helping society’s most vulnerable people? To take an exam when you have COVID-19? To bring your neighbours together in support of someone bereaved? 

“Someone in my building put up a notice in the foyer saying that it’s the anniversary of her son’s death coming up and she can’t go to the graveyard because of the virus, so she wanted to build a little garden memorial on her balcony, with her two little girls. She was asking for tools and plants and things. I posted the message she’d sent, and I had a wonderful response from people, loads of people, I lost count of how many people.”  – from Maybe There Is More Hope (practical support volunteer) 

Today, we release our full report on Oxford Together – on what worked, and why.  

The stories reflect the deep impact of Oxford Together on those involved – people were able to access support that was quick, personal and ‘human’; those delivering support had a sense of purpose, and were able to collaborate, be creative and work outside their comfort zones; people built relationships, which deepened their connection to their work, community and the city more broadly, and made their involvement feel meaningful. There was also a renewed sense of hope – that nothing is too big to change, and that support can be delivered in a way which is both collaborative and quick; structured and flexible; widespread and local. 

“Oxford Hub seem to be a roots sort of organisation and maybe people kind of prefer that kind of contact, rather than getting in touch with ‘The Man’, you know? – the big authority up there. It’s definitely reached parts I think that the Council has failed to. And maybe that’s because the Council’s a juggernaut and you sometimes need a mini car.” – from It’s a Two-Way Street (practical support volunteer) 

Above all else, the stories show that, if we want to learn from Oxford Together and sustain many of these improved ways of working going forward, we need to prioritise the following things: 

  • We need to invest in relationships 
  • The small things matter 
  • Collaboration is key 
  • People take responsibility when they have agency – we need to support less hierarchical decision making  
  • We need to be creative and take risks  
  • We need to empower local groups, communities and volunteers. 

Read the full report here: www.oxfordtogetherstories.co.uk