Surge of goodwill helps vulnerable through crisis

July 01 2020

Councillors Mike Bell, Katie Cooper and Ian Boulton with staff and trustees of the Staple Hill Community Hub at its food store.

Councillors Mike Bell, Katie Cooper and Ian Boulton with staff and trustees of the Staple Hill Community Hub at its food store.

HUNDREDS of volunteers have been going shopping, collecting prescriptions and providing food to help vulnerable people through the coronavirus crisis.
From spontaneously-formed Facebook and WhatsApp groups to existing community organisations, charities and councillors, a huge number of people have been giving up time to ensure those who have had to stay at home to shield from the virus are not forgotten.
Among the groups which formed on Facebook as lockdown started to transform lives was the BS16 Covid-19 Community Care group, which helps coordinate offers of help and people in need across Downend and the surrounding area.
Volunteer coordinator Sophia Gibbs-Foyle said: “When the Covid-19 outbreak began to sweep across the country, one of the first concerns was about the most vulnerable people in our communities. How would those who are shielding do food shopping? How would the elderly and vulnerable access essential medications? What can we do to help? The BS16 Covid-19 Community Care group was set up to connect members of the community who could help one another.”
The group matches its 258 volunteers with its bank of people shielding or self-isolating, providing support from food shopping and prescription collections to dog walking and providing phone buddies for a chat.
As well as online and email referrals at BS16covid19@gmail.com, the group has a phone helpline on 0808 168 5726 and also helps people referred by South Gloucestershire Council and charity Southern Brooks Community Partnerships.
Sophia said: “Initially we saw many requests for help with food shopping and another practical tasks. In more recent weeks there has been a major surge in requests for ‘phone buddies’ which is a stark reminder of how many people have been affected by loneliness during this pandemic.
“I’ve been astounded by the sheer enthusiasm and generosity of our community at such a challenging time, and look forward to carrying the legacy of this on after Covid-19 subsides from our daily lives.”
Mangotsfield Residents Association has worked with Staple Hill and Mangotsfield ward councillors Katie Cooper, Michael Bell and Ian Boulton, the Staple Hill Hub and Salvation Army to organise a team of volunteers to help with shopping, prescriptions and odd jobs for people in isolation.
An emergency food bank was set up at the Red Lion pub, working with landlady Mary West and with further support from Mitch Hore at the Grapevine, to provide and deliver food parcels and ready-made meals for people in need.
Volunteers also made personal protective equipment and biker group the Band of Hope made deliveries to hospitals and care homes.
MRA chair Clive Heath said: “It has been a fantastic effort by all involved, our shopping volunteers and Mary and the food bank; to my knowledge nobody has gone without shopping or prescriptions and nobody in need has gone with out food or toiletries.”
Katie said ward councillors decided to take responsibility for the volunteer programme, which was set up early in March, as soon as vulnerable people were told to isolate.
Leaflets were produced and distributed around the ward giving people contact numbers to call if they needed help or could offer it. More than 100 volunteers were registered and ground rules laid down to ensure all interactions were safe for the more than 300 people given support.
The emergency foodbank at the Red Lion has now been wound down as the pub prepares for reopening, with food relief efforts now concentrated at the Staple Hill Hub and the Salvation Army in Broad Street, where donations can be taken.
In total more than 6,000 meals have been provided since the start of the crisis, helped by food donations from individuals and businesses and £2,000 raised through crowdfunding.
Children have also helped provide some simple psychological support, making phone calls and creating art for people who were shielding alone and feeling lonely.
Katie said: “It became clear that the isolation was really beginning to get some people down. We wanted a way to raise a smile and let people know they aren't alone. What's better than a piece of child's art to cheer someone up?”
People in Staple Hill and Mangotsfield who need help can contact the Staple Hill Community Hub on 07434 737512 or the MRA on 0750 716 8700.
Help is also available from Southern Brooks Community Partnerships, who are working alongside the council to connect individuals in need of support with the help they need. Their line – 07773 209943 – is staffed from 8am to 8pm daily and the team is also available by email at communitysupport@southernbrooks.org.uk.