‘Helping makes you realise how lucky you are’

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Marsden Help

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Dominique Chatfield delivered food parcels for the Marsden Help group

When coronavirus began to sweep across England, hundreds of Facebook groups were set up where people offered help to those living nearby. Here are some of the ways those groups co-ordinated their kindness to get communities through the pandemic.

“In the days before lockdown there was this strong desire to pull together survive and keep one another safe,” said Marianne McNamara.

She and many others rallied to get Marsden Help Facebook page up and running in Kirklees, Huddersfield.

“We launched a resilience fund, a food bank and a next-day food and goods delivery service using volunteer drivers,” she said.

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Marsden Help

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Carol Walker works at the Village Green grocers which linked up with the Co-op, Post Office, chemist and butchers

“Small businesses that had to close immediately brought us all their stock. They were running out of money themselves but they chose to do that.

“We have worked alongside The Real Junk Food Project to feed families with hundreds of pounds worth of food that was destined to be waste.

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Marianne McNamara

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Marianne McNamara said the community spirit during the pandemic had been overwhelming

“We’ve had flowers donated to cheer people up and people have made facemasks and anxiety badges.”

“It’s been a real education. You don’t realise how lucky you are until you go to deliver a food parcel and you have to ask ‘do you have a fridge or a freezer to put this in or something to cook on?’

“Or when the children come running out to you and you can see in their faces that they’re desperate for the food. We took some fresh fruit to a home and these kids were just devouring this punnet of strawberries before mum could even get them in the house.”

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Jack Dart

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Jack Dart said 12-year-old Alfie Dean was well known for his efforts to help those in need

In Devon, Jack Dart set up Torbay Help Hub Facebook page and website to link people in need with those who wanted to help.

“I initially started the Torbay Help Hub because of frustration that the government hadn’t acted quick enough in the crucial, early stages of the outbreak,” said Mr Dart, who is a Liberal Democrat on Torbay Council.

One volunteer, 12-year-old Alfie Dean, set up the Babbacombe Pantry offering free food and essentials.

Mr Dart said: “Alfie has consistently posted in the Help Hub throughout the pandemic and is well known locally for his efforts to help those in need.”

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Jack Dart

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Miley Acreman, seven, raised £800 for NHS workers through cake sales, recipe books and donations

Another young volunteer was seven-year-old Miley Acreman, who set up a community pantry outside her house.

Her mum Laura Acreman said: “The pantry was used a lot. No sooner it was full it was empty again. It got used a lot at night – I think people are embarrassed to be in need of food.

“It’s been great for Miley, while she’s been missing school and her friends, it’s kept her busy and made her feel like she’s doing something good.”

Torbay Community Development Trust opened a phone line and hundreds of people left their details on a volunteer sheet.

“So many have selflessly gone out of their way to ensure the at risk and vulnerable were looked after properly,” said Mr Dart.

“It was a genuine team effort, and it’s made lockdown a much less dangerous, heartbreaking and nervous experience for a lot of us.”

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Mark Booth

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Tracy and Mark Booth had been sleeping in a tent in their garden

Peter Dutch founded the Colchester Anti Loo Roll Brigade out of frustration at lockdown stockpilers.

The group rallied to the aid of Tracy and Mark Booth whose uninsured house was gutted by fire.

Mr Dutch called BBC Essex after hearing Mrs Booth tell BBC’s Make a Difference campaign they were living in a tent in the garden with their three dogs.

Within three hours, he had spoken to a group member who had offered the Booths and their pets free use of a house.

Members of the community group offered them services including scaffolding, roofing, electrics and furniture free of charge.

Mrs Booth said: “I have no words strong enough to say how grateful [I am] and how wonderful they have been.

“People on the Anti Loo Roll Brigade page have been so amazing, they’ve sort of kept our spirits up all the time. It’s really lovely.”

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Peter Dutch

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Dozens of businesses and tradesmen offered to help rebuild the home

Kirsty Mellor is one of many core members of Portsmouth Coronavirus Support Group, which set up a helpline.

“We’ve been able to help people with the day-to-day things you take for granted like picking up a prescription.

“There’s an elderly gentleman living in sheltered accommodation who could not leave his flat to use the laundry room as he was shielding, so I’m doing his washing,” said Ms Mellor.

“A man who has autism who wasn’t confident on the phone contacted us via the page saying he wanted to get some birdseed. We delivered it to him and that was one of my favourite things that happened.”

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Pompey CSG

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Asghar Shah volunteers for Portsmouth Coronavirus Support Group

She said the emotional support that people had provided for one another was “amazing”.

“Not everyone wants or knows how to ask the council for help, they might feel embarrassed,” she said.

“But there’s something special about someone saying ‘I can take care of that for you.’

“Although it’s been a tragic few months with the death toll we’ve had – and its been really difficult around mental health – I’m really thankful for this group.

“This is about communities coming together and I think it’ll be needed long after lockdown ends.”

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Obaida Ahmed

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Obaida Ahmed made a video to encourage Muslims not to get together to celebrate Eid

Tom Moreton set up the Wolverhampton Covid-19 Mutual Aid Facebook page.

“I saw these groups popping up across the country when at the time everything felt very frantic and uncertain,” he said.

“I thought ‘here’s something I can do to help’, so I set up the group and it just grew.

“People started posting on there what they needed and they were inundated with help.

“A victim of domestic abuse had to move out of their home so a volunteer posted on the group ‘have you got any furniture?’ and that was sorted.”

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Wolverhampton City Council

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WV Active Aldersley leisure centre was transformed into a food distribution hub

City of Wolverhampton Labour councillor Obaida Ahmed arranged a call between group members and the authority’s director of public health.

The group partnered with Wolverhampton Voluntary Sector Council and created database of people who wanted to help.

WV Active Aldersley leisure centre was transformed into a food distribution hub in just a few days,” said Mr Moreton, a software developer and cub scout leader.

“It was a case of problem solving rather than waiting for the government to do it. So much good and random acts of kindness have come from it.

“The Facebook group is a community asset which didn’t exist before which hopefully will continue after the pandemic.”


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