Inspirational community leader reveals impact of Covid-19 and her response 

Rosmini Centre manager Anita Grodkiewicz

Rosmini Centre manager Anita Grodkiewicz and her staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to help many in the Fens during the pandemic. - Credit: Archant

In the latest of our series in association with Cambridgeshire County Council, we look back at how a community centre – and its leader – responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

An unpretentious community centre provides an exemplary example of how Cambridgeshire responded coherently and magnificently to the pandemic. 

It tested every sinew of the strength and ability of its manager Anita Grodkiewicz and her staff and volunteers.  

“On the first morning of lockdown 60 people were waiting,” she says. 

“There were laid off from work and didn’t know what to do. 

“People of all languages and ages were waiting. Police drove by and remarked ‘don’t you know we are in lockdown and why are so many here’” 

The Rosmini Centre, Wisbech, mobilised quickly and within week weeks was grappling successfully with queries from Fenland’s vast population of European workers.  

The Rosmini Centre in Wisbech i

The Rosmini Centre in Wisbech - Credit: Archant

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Anita retained face to face appointments.  

“If English is not your first language you may be able to converse face to face but not over the phone- it is impossible,” she says.  

The centre identified groups particularly vulnerable during the pandemic.  

“Some HMO landlords panicked and put in rotas for using kitchens and bathrooms. But if you are on a12-hour shift and couldn’t get home for your ‘’slot’ it would be impossible to use your kitchen or bathroom,” she recalls. 

There were also Universal Credit applications, reduced hours at work, funeral arrangements, and those who had travelled home before lockdown.  

“People were calling from Lithuania or Poland and couldn’t get back, so they couldn't return to work,” she says. 

“Therefore, they couldn't pay rent, were worried about belongings in their rooms they couldn’t access and would the landlord put their clothes in a bin bag and put outside”. 

Reduced hours for many workers – and those on already low incomes – created other problems. 

"People had no credit for a phone (to call their agency) and help was needed to top up gas and electric,” says Anita.  

“And those who were key workers had to find child care; they had to go to work but were reluctant to leave children with those potentially with Covid.” 

Some statistics: 

The Rosmini Centre’s six phone lines in different languages have been called 5,000 times 

Since the pandemic began, they have carried out 3,279 one-on-one appointments. 

2,304 food parcels delivered to vulnerable families – the Rosmini centre also provides daily lunches 

Since March this year, the centre has helped 717 complete settled status applications 

Working with public health – 741 lateral flow tests since March.  

The numbers calling in for lunch are rising – initially up to 20 attended daily, and that number has doubled. 

During lockdown, the centre supported those from the Ferry Project in hotels or boarding houses. Tesco also stepped up to the mark. 

They provided fruit and veg to back up tinned foods and microwavable food provided to homeless in hotels.  

Tesco “are brilliant” says Anita, offering fresh produce for a ‘fair share’ stand outside the centre.  

“People help themselves,” says Anita. “It is open to all – we have no criteria and we don’t judge.” 

Volunteers play a major role but throughout lockdown were often not able to help as many are elderly and ended up shielding.  

“I turned into a ‘Tesco’ van driver, my staff turned into sandwich makers,” says Anita.  

Countering false information has also become critical for “as we moved into a period of vaccine hesitancy many myths went out on social media”. 

Since February, the centre has worked with Fenland Council to recruit ‘Covid champions’.  

They now have 15 volunteer ‘champions’, often helping to translate updates. 

With travel, she says, its vital the Covid ‘champions’ are able to access social media in Bulgaria, Latvia or Romania, for instance, pick up concerns in home countries. 

The ‘champions’ include members of staff and they support Russian, Latvian, Polish, Lithuanian, Romanian Bulgarian, Turkish and Roma communities locally. 

"Our champions also identify needs around the vaccine, those perpetuating the myth of it being ‘devil’s needle’ is typical,” she says.  

A priest from a Romanian Orthodox Church in Boston, a Latvian consultant from Peterborough hospital and a Polish epidemiologist from Addenbrooke’s are among volunteers.  

She says: “Recently we spoke to 15 Bulgarian seasonal workers and we have successfully managed to talk four of them into having the vaccine “ 

“One thing in my head will always stick out. It was unbelievable if you looked out of your window at home and saw no cars; it looked like the world had stopped. 

“But once you got to the centre, it was absolutely crazy.” 

I asked if she had a highlight. 

“Yes, and that is how lucky I am to have such a great team – they have gone along with all the changes and never complained or moaned. 

“The just got on with it.” 

And a wish for the future? 

“I put it like this,” she says. “When the printing trade took off and newspapers became readily accessible it didn’t matter because many couldn’t read, 

“Today everything is online and accessible on the internet but like the printing trade back then, many can’t use the internet. That must change.”