Surge of goodwill and volunteering helps Thornbury's vulnerable residents through crisis
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 the crisis began to transform lives is the I Can Offer (Covid19 Thornbury Support) Facebook group.
Membership of the group quickly grew to around 750, and volunteers have been helping Thornbury residents, and those in surrounding villages, with shopping, collecting prescriptions, walking dogs and phone chats for those struggling with being cut off from the community for so long.
Ruth Williams, one of the group’s two administrators, said: “Whenever there has been a request for help our members have responded immediately.
“As well as responding to requests for help via the group, most importantly members have been checking in on and helping their immediate neighbours, as well as supporting family and friends.
“Having a chat while dropping off shopping and prescriptions has really helped to keep people who are vulnerable or shielding connected with the ‘outside’ world and they have all been so appreciative.
“Some of our members have been making and distributing face masks, scrub bags and other vital items.
“We have been taking referrals from local charities and community organisations and link with the Covid19 Mutual Aid network.
“We’ve also helped arrange signpost people to community transport and various other organisations and information.
“No one is looking for recognition – we all just get on with it quietly and discretely – and the group will continue to run for as long as people need us.”
To get in touch with the group search for I Can Offer Thornbury on Facebook or email email@example.com.
People who are not online can call 0784 218 8448 to ask for or offer help.
Thornbury Round Table is one of the existing voluntary groups which has stepped up during the crisis.
As well as continuing its donations to charities in need of help, members took their Santa sleigh out around East Thornbury (below) after asking people to leave food donations outside their homes.
Round Table chairman Andy Hunter said the group collected just under half a tonne of food from residents.
He said: “It was a hot sunny day, with a great party atmosphere and amazing response from the community.
“It provided a great way for people who are shielding to help people in need without putting themselves at risk.
“We will continue to liaise with the Food bank and plan to do further routes in the coming weeks.”
Thornbury Round Table is a group for men aged 18-44. New members are welcome and people can get in touch by emailing Thornbury@roundtable.org.uk
In villages around the area, support groups have sprung up so people can help their neighbours.
One of them is the Old Down Community Support Group, which was created shortly before lockdown, with leaflets delivered to every household giving contact details for three of the founders.
Di Buckley, from the group, said: “We were keen to create a feeling of confidence and trust.
“We set up secure social networking by way of a village WhatsApp group, as well as a ‘members- only’ Facebook page for communication.
“Once lockdown hit, we quickly offered a twice weekly order for bread and milk through the local bakers; that quickly increased to treats such as sausage rolls, lardy cake and cheesy eggs, all freshly baked the night before.
“As the community got to know each other, everyone helped out – for example we often had people saying ‘I’m off to Thornbury, anyone need anything?’”
The group helped organise distanced VE Day 75th anniversary celebrations in front gardens (above) and socially-distanced picnics have been established as a regular Saturday afternoon event.
Di said: “We continue to all support each other as we have, through this pandemic, we have got to know our community again and will continue for now to take every day as it comes.”
St Mary's in Olveston is one of the many churches which have been at the centre of the community response to the pandemic.
Members of the church produced a ‘contact card’, paid for by the parish council, before the lockdown was announced, with key contact phone numbers.
Some 650 were delivered to homes within a day, thanks to help from a village volunteer WhatsApp group, formed by a resident who has asked to remain anonymous.
In one day the group had built a team of 60 people, many of them young parents, prepared to volunteer to help vulnerable residents.
Church warden Martin Gibson said requests for help began to come in as soon as lockdown was announced, mainly from elderly people or others in isolation who needed help with shopping or collecting prescriptions but with some other “stranger cries for help”.
Martin said the people helped by volunteers included a 98-year-old woman, with no family or other support, who had been befriended by a volunteer who found her injured on her floor following a bad fall and called an ambulance.
He said: “Then there was the bizarre case of a villager who had imbibed a glass or two of wine one evening, making her unsafe to drive, but her dog went in to labour with complications.
“A WhatsApp message went out at 10.30pm and a few minutes later a village volunteer turned up and drove the dog to the Coppins Vets in Milbury Heath, where 11 puppies were safely delivered. The volunteer got home at 2:20am!
“In the first week of lockdown it wasn't uncommon for 60 messages a day to go out. Every single request for help was answered within minutes and fulfilled within hours.
“Strangely, by mid April, there was very little WhatsApp messaging, which prompted me to ask the lady organiser if everything was working properly? Oh yes, she replied – like clockwork. And that is the way it's been ever since.
“How our communities do thrive on a crisis! What wonderful people live next door to you and me.”