You Are Not Alone
I remember it clearly…
It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only mid-March 2020. A typical Monday afternoon at the Together TV headquarters. The team was finishing up for the day whilst keeping a weather eye on the news. The Prime Minister was about to unveil a national lockdown. We had no idea it would be the last day we spent in our office for a very long time – since then, we have still not met in person.
We had heard through the grapevine that neighbourhoods across the UK were gathering and arranging networks of spontaneous support groups named “mutual aid groups.” They were not charities nor institutions, but old-fashioned communities offering a helping hand with no strings attached. Designed for people who suddenly had to self-isolate as simple things like popping out for some milk or collecting prescriptions would become impossible.
I have an Italian family and heritage, and I still have strong bonds with my motherland. In the early days of the pandemic, whilst British lives were going ahead as normal and coronavirus just seemed a dreadful issue overseas, Italy had already been completely shut for weeks. My family and friends told me about the strict rules, the fear and the issues that came with not being allowed to leave the house. They were not even allowed out for a walk. Entire areas were in strict lockdown and coronavirus related deaths were rising at an alarming rate. It was clear that this would not be over quickly.
We decided we needed to give voice and space to mutual aid groups on our channel. We quickly arranged the on-air messaging with the post-production team. We scripted, recorded and produced what we needed to get the message out there. A process that usually took days or weeks, was completed in a few hours. We subbed all our usual charity support-based messages on screen with one message: “Stuck at home? You are Not Alone.”
Over the weekend, everything changed. I spent two days glued to the phone, receiving calls from people from across the UK with one simple request: can you help me?
How Together TV Helped
We had identified a gap between the mutual aid groups offering help — now in the thousands — and people asking for it. These people were in self-isolation or shielding, most without access to social media.
We began helping through online resources, creating the first interactive Mutual Aid groups map. It became the UK’s top search result for mutual aid groups and we worked closely with the central UK Mutual Aid team to get them a similar map. We rolled out email support too to increase the accessibility of assistance and our team spent many weekends glued to their inboxes replying to help requests. Next, we repurposed our office landline to receive calls from our viewers and people in need. We also introduced a dedicated policy and tightened our safeguarding rules and processes. It sounds complicated, but it was necessary in keeping everyone safe. In addition, we broadcasted Covid-19 related videos including a video from John Hopkins on handwashing and Covid-19 hygiene videos by Public Health England.
Since then, we have spoken to people from the Scottish borders, down to the Welsh coast. I was looking up postcodes of places where I had never been. Some people were in their 70s, but some were youths self-isolating with no peers in the area. Location and background were irrelevant, everyone we spoke to were after or offered the same thing: help.
People that called, texted, or emailed us were put in touch with the nearest local mutual aid group or relevant charity, if a specialist was needed. At a certain point, local housing institutions and mutual aid groups started contacting us directly. They discovered there was an organisation happily trying its best to connect people to their local communities.
We realised we needed to dedicate even more resources to our movement. We created new roles and hired skilled people for the team, to make sure everyone got the attention they deserved.
We even spent Christmas Together, by joining Jo Cox Foundation’s Great Winter Get Together and launching a 6-week long campaign to help people through the festive period. We created a Christmas TV special tailored around people affected by social isolation, which aired on Christmas Day.
A Year On
It has been now a year, and our campaign is alive more than ever: we receive calls, texts and requests of help on a daily basis and continue to connect people to local coordinators, councils, charities, etc. And yes, we are still apart and stuck at home – but we are more connected than ever.
It is hard to explain how rewarding it feels as an individual working for a TV channel – that you assume only focuses on “entertaining” people – to have been able to help support so many people. We might not have been the ones knocking on doors, but we made sure someone did. We might not have been able to physically turn up (safely and contact-free) at doorsteps, but we cared about it happening. We did our best to make sure everyone that got in touch felt safe and comforted by a friendly voice.
We are a TV channel, but we are more than what you can see on the box. We are a voice on the other side of the phone, and someone to help you connect with your nearest community. This is the essence of what we are about. This is Together TV.
By Francesca Aita, Head of Marketing at Together TV