Kew Community Trust and the Avenue Club in the time of Covid-19….a great example of teamwork and shared values

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Some of the 500+ members of the Avenue Club…regarded by many as ‘a great place in the heart of Kew’ were genuinely distressed by the forced closure of our facilities in mid March. Lisa – our club manager – and her two assistants, Caroline and Siobhan received numerous calls and emails from people who were not sure how they would manage without the opportunity to participate in the wide range of classes and activities that – in normal times – have become such an important contributor to their wellbeing ….how were they to manage without the intellectual stimulation of our Art History lectures? Or the physical stretching associated with Yoga or Pilates? Or the creativity and friendship associated with our Knit and Stitch group? For many members, the club is an important part of their lives, providing an opportunity to meet with friends, make new friends….and (especially on Thursdays, when Patrick cooks his special roasts) to have a good meal or a tasty snack.

Some of our older members were particularly sad about not being able to come to our ‘Monday Club’…a special day for our less independent neighbours, some of whom have belonged to the club for a decade or more…and many of whom are driven to and from St.Luke’s by volunteers from Kew Neighbourhood Association.

The staff and trustees decided that – although we were faced with an enormous problem – we had to treat this time as an opportunity. We had to work out ways to remain connected with our members, to look after our staff and to provide support for our much-loved tutors. In normal times most of our income results from hiring out our halls for events and activities from weddings and children’s parties to meetings of local special interest groups…and this stopped abruptly, with our having to offer to refund deposits.

Fortunately – thanks to the incredible generosity of one of our past members, Sheila Marwood, who left us a wonderful bequest, we were much more financially stable than many small charities. We were able to ‘top up’ the salaries of our furloughed staff to 100% and to provide much appreciated financial support to our tutors. However, you will not be surprised to know that – as soon as we are able to socialise again – we know that we will have to do some very creative fundraising! It has been heart warming to receive a number of wonderful donations over the past months from some of our supporters.

So, what have we been doing?

One of our big ‘learnings’ for us, and for many of our members has been about becoming much more ‘tech savvy’ … if this pandemic had to happen, it has been a blessing that it happened when we could use modern technology to connect with each other. From early days, some of our classes were delivered via ‘Zoom’…apparently French conversation works rather well, and some members actually prefer being able to do their exercises at home…and many teachers have kept in personal contact, answering questions and giving advice. Many of our trustee and staff meetings continue to take place on Zoom…and we are developing a new, more interactive website, and beginning to get proactively engaged with social media…watch this space!

The relatively ‘old technology’ of the telephone has proved invaluable.  During lockdown, all members were called and – for those that particularly appreciated this contact – regular conversations were organised to help people feel less lonely.

Now we are (gradually) reopening, technology has also been key to our strategy for making our building a safe and ‘Covid-19 compliant’ venue. We have invested in special sanitising equipment, which Patrick is using with great professionalism.. much admired by the members who are now able to attend classes or use our hairdressing or chiropody services. At the time of writing, around 10 classes (see the website for details) have restarted – although numbers are restricted – and the very popular walking group has worked out how to divide into ‘rule of 6’ socially distanced groups!

The ‘silver lining’ to this challenging time has been the wonderful way that trustees and staff have worked so well – and hard! – together. We all feel that we are laying foundations for an even more successful and valued local organisation, with lots of ideas about what we hope to be able to achieve once a vaccine is discovered!