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Residents of South London organize to support community members in isolation

A London community created a volunteer network, Tooting Together, to support fellow neighbors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • 2K
  • volunteers signed up
  • 478
  • streets in community served
  • 29
  • area leads

The global pandemic has unraveled differently in every part of the world, though the shock, grief, and fear it’s brought with it seems to be universal. But amid the chaos, we’ve seen countless people rise up to support one another during this unprecedented time––putting community at the heart of their response.

In early 2020, as it quickly became clear that the spread of the novel coronavirus was growing increasingly serious, Oliver Wells, a NationBuilder team member and resident of Tooting in South London, received an email forwarded from the office of his MP, Rosena Allin-Khan. The email detailed an initiative in his community, one that aimed to support the vulnerable residents in his neighborhood as they went into isolation. They were asking for his help as a volunteer––and to start with, they needed permission to have his name and contact information included on flyers being distributed in his neighborhood. He filled out a form that detailed his preferences and sent it off. But the email had sparked a desire in him to do more for his community.

Coincidentally, the next day, NationBuilder announced that we’d be offering our software for free to all those working on emergency response to the pandemic––and Wells (known to the team as Oli) made the decision to reach out directly to Allin-Khan’s team to see if they’d be interested in getting the effort set up with a digital infrastructure on NationBuilder. 

Around the same time, Helen Twiston-Davies had stumbled upon a Facebook group organized by Allin-Khan’s office detailing the same initiative. She connected to the cause immediately––in part because Allin-Khan herself returned to serve as an A&E doctor during the pandemic. So she and her husband Ben signed up too, and it wasn’t long before they started coordinating the delivery of flyers to various roads in their community.

They went on to take more substantial roles facilitating the logistics as area leads who oversee local coordinators, exploring how they could make the processes around volunteer coordination more effective.

The complicated spreadsheets where they’d been storing data were piling up, and it was getting harder and harder to hold on to the scraps of paper where they’d written down disparate contact information. They needed to go digital, and luckily, Oliver’s work to transition the effort’s infrastructure to NationBuilder was underway.

Consolidating all the data to one integrated database was the first big step––and the only way the group could effectively distribute leadership throughout their community at scale. The goal was to create a network of roads with individual representatives, who funneled up to road leads reporting into local coordinators, each in contact with an area lead. This system would make it possible for one area lead to cover up to twenty-five roads––serving hundreds of citizens––by distributing work outward. Clearly defining and tracking the volunteer roles involved was a critical part of making that happen.

The system that Oliver has set up has facilitated all of our work. I’m not quite sure how we would have done without it. It was quickly getting far too big and complicated for us to cope without a more tailored solution,” says Helen.

  • Paths & Goals

  • Leaders who organize on NationBuilder use trackable paths and goals to move supporters up the ladder of engagement.

With their digital infrastructure in place, Helen and Ben now have a Gmail account linked to their nation where they receive automatic notifications when a new volunteer has signed up. Then, they reach out via phone to welcome the new volunteer to the network and share some guidelines for how to get started. Once the volunteer is caught up, they’re introduced to their local coordinator, who puts them in touch with the right road representative. All this activity is tracked in the Tooting Together nation through paths, which show area leads exactly where each volunteer is in their onboarding process, making it that much easier to manage their involvement. And with the quick influx of volunteers the initiative has seen––smooth and effective volunteer management has been critical to their success as a grassroots, community-led effort. 

According to Oliver, “Rosena's office was really clear about this from early on––that it needs to be a community-led thing with different people in the community playing to their strengths, whatever they might be. It’s not always easy to make that happen, but in this case, it did seem to genuinely and organically happen. I mean, we’ve had nearly 2,000 volunteers sign up.”

In fact, the number of volunteers currently outnumbers the residents who need support. The pandemic has inspired many to do more for their communities––not only as a way of helping others, but as a way of finding purpose while so much feels uncertain.

On this, Ben says: “How often do you turn around and go ‘Actually here’s something I don’t normally get to think about - how are we going to try and look after 50,000 people?’ For me, it was novel…and having something to do stops you thinking about what’s happening too, it was good to feel like we were helping to tackle the crisis rather than just being subject to it.”

  • Built-in action pages

  • Organizations use NationBuilder to create effective petitions, event pages, and more in minuteswith no coding required. 

Another key element in how seamlessly Tooting’s efforts came together was their action-oriented website––designed with sign up pages for both volunteers and those in need of support to submit their information. And the best part, when volunteers sign up, their geographic information automatically pairs them with the right area leads, like Ben and Helen. Additionally, they’ve added a searchable directory to the site that allows anyone to search the database of volunteers to find one closest to them.

We live in this area of London and Tooting, but didn’t really know many of our neighbours. There just wasn’t that massive sense of personal community. Being part of this effort has fostered that kind of community and neighbourhood feeling––and that makes you want to support others in the best way you can,” reflects Helen.

Tooting Together’s efforts are going strong as the pandemic continues. But Oliver has hope that when it’s all over, the volunteers in their network will have a chance to come together and meet in person. And while it’s unclear when that time might come––it’s something to look forward to. 

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