Volunteers win international COVID response award

The community response to the pandemic received high praise this Monday, as a council-funded organisation scooped an international award.

Published: Monday, 15th February 2021

Cherwell Collective, an umbrella for several not-for-profit community groups, was awarded a European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Civil Solidarity Prize at an online ceremony on Monday 15 February.

Dr Emily L Connally, founder of Cherwell Collective, said: “This amazing international award provides legitimacy and credibility to thinking beyond feeding people in the short term. Our community built a pathway toward living greener and cleaner and we did it by joining together and having faith in a brighter future. This can propel us to do more. It’s simply game changing.”

With advice and support from Cherwell District Council’s communities team, Cherwell Collective has flourished and now supports three key projects: Cherwell Larder, Climatarian Kitchen, and Harvest at Home.

The groups’ activities include: provision of food and other essential goods; supplies and guidance to grow food at home; and meal and recipe kits along with events and courses that empower people toward more sustainable lifestyles.

Councillor Andrew McHugh, Cherwell District Council’s Lead Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “The resilient and selfless spirit of our residents has been a real theme throughout COVID-19. Our ethos as a council has been to target funding and support to those in the community who are serving their neighbours with projects like food banks, skills sharing, and environmental work. I am delighted to see Cherwell Collective win this high-profile recognition.”

Dr Connally added: “The groups that we support came about because our community wanted to be part of the solution to local problems arising from COVID. That spirit of solidarity is how we faced challenges such as isolation from shielding, access to food, and lack of experience cooking with food surplus. It is not a top-down approach we take, but rather friends helping friends.

“Cherwell District Council have been instrumental in helping us navigate some of the hurdles that grassroots groups face in getting organised, raising our profile, and making the most of fundraising opportunities. They have also connected us to other community groups and services that compliment and enrich our own work.” 

Cherwell Collective and the organisations it supports have so far received £8,850 in funding from the council, via the Community Hub Emergency Relief Fund and the COVID-19 Councillor Priority Fund. This funding is critical because the groups say they have had over 40 applications for funding from other sources rejected.

The total amount of COVID funding distributed by the council to similar community groups now totals over £87,000.

Cherwell Collective is based in Kidlington and supports groups and services throughout Cherwell district and across Oxfordshire as a whole. A climate-friendly approach is central to Cherwell Collective’s work, with a commitment to waste prevention, resource sharing, recycling and reusing.  

The EESC Civil Solidarity Prize was established to reward creative initiatives undertaken across the United Kingdom and the EU in response to COVID-19 and its impacts. A total of 23 award winners were chosen across many themes, and Cherwell Collective received the award in the theme “Food supply and assistance to vulnerable people”, only one of four winners in this theme across the continent and over 250 applications.