A salute to the volunteers who helped Yate and Chipping Sodbury through the coronavirus 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.
While NHS staff worked on the front line and council workers kept essential services going, volunteers have been organising and working with charities, churches and other groups to help neighbours in need.
And while it would be impossible to name them all, here the Voice recognises just some of the many volunteers who have supported - and continue to support - their communities.
Among the groups which formed on Facebook as the crisis began to transform lives is the Yate and Sodbury Neighbourhood Scheme group.
Emma Doney has been coordinating the more than 150 volunteers in the group, which formed from the Yate and Sodbury Covid-19 Help & Support Facebook page, since the start of lockdown.
Members have run more than 1,000 errands for people in need across the area.
Emma runs home help and housekeeping business Adorno Companions, which had to suspend operations at the start of the lockdown because staff could not visit clients’ houses.
Emma furloughed her staff but decided to continue supporting people on a voluntary basis and became one of the 12 organisers of the group, checking Facebook around the clock for requests for help, allocating volunteers and coordinating donations.
Emma said: “We started getting a lot of people requesting help.
“It felt like a continuation of my job – when you run a small business you just muck in.
“Rather than coordinating staff I was coordinating volunteers to look after people.”
Tasks are coordinated via a volunteers-only Facebook page and the group has also been given support by South Gloucestershire Council, which hosts regular Zoom video meetings for groups to share hints and tips, the area’s town and parish councils and charity Southern Brooks Community Partnerships.
They have been helped by innovations like a queue jump scheme to enables volunteers, who could be doing shopping for up to four vulnerable people, to pick up shopping more quickly from supermarkets.
Some volunteers cover their own roads, others cover roads with a high proportion of older people and Emma believes around 400 roads in total are covered by the scheme.
Volunteers also work with St Mary’s and Chipping Sodbury Baptist churches to set up a listening scheme for people to have some company by phone, and a toy and activity bank.
The work has gone on through the whole of lockdown and although a few volunteers have had to go back to work the group is “still very much helping people,” said Emma.
“It’s amazing – the community has come together beyond anyone’s imagination.
“We hope once this is settled down that we can call on these volunteers to organise street parties.
A remarkable scheme which developed during the lockdown is the soup delivery service run by Nicole Jones of Yate’s Vintage Birdcage Cakery.
Delivering an estimated 25,000 free meals throughout lockdown to 450 people in need, the service was supported by a multitude of businesses who donated food and time, as well as crowdfunding page.
Nicole said: “When lockdown was announced I was extremely concerned about how our local vulnerable community would cope due to not being allowed to go out to buy their supplies.
“We had been dealing with a few local people who were ordering takeaways from us as they were extremely vulnerable and couldn’t get out to get supplies, as the shops had gone mad with people bulk buying.
“After the government announcement I had to close the café and put all my staff on furlough. Although this unusual time could have been taken for some much needed rest, I had an inner aching feeling that I couldn’t just turn my back on our wonderful community that support me at my café.
“I needed to reach out to these people and offer a service to keep them in and safe.”
Nicole contacted Ben Skuse at Sprint Print in Yate, who provided flyers to reach people who weren’t online and requests for help began to come in.
Nicole said: “We first began to deliver fresh soup, bread and a little cake just to keep them going and keep spirits up. We very quickly found out that, for some, this might have been the only thing they would actually be eating that day. I also had contacted Jimmy Deane from Jimmy Deanes Fruit and Veg to see if he would support me and donate some vegetable to which he kindly agreed.”
Nicole’s daughters Lily and Rosie, niece Amy Hucker and manager Alfie Dando joined the volunteer effort and, using social media, she found two trained chefs to take over the kitchen, after her regular chef was taken ill.
Nicole said: “It became very apparent that there was a huge amount of people that were having trouble sourcing food and within the first few days it wasn’t just a handful of people in need but a huge amount of people, with numbers increasing by the hour!”
She found more volunteers via social media to provide a staff of 18 people per day, seven days per week, and suppliers to donate resources including soup pots and bags.
A GoFundMe crowdfunding page helped pay the venture’s £450-a-day costs.
Nicole, who has now reopened her business for takeaways, with the soup run completed, said: “I would like to take this opportunity to not only thank the generous local suppliers and the cash donations we received from the local community to keep the service going but also a special thank-you must go to all the hard working volunteers.
“They all gave up their time on a daily basis in the numerous of tasks to keep this service operational. All done with a massive smile on their faces, which was able put a smile on the faces of those we were delivering to.”
Just a few of the local businesses and organisations who donated to the soup delivery service
Yate mayor Karl Tomasin has paid tribute to all the volunteers who have worked with the town council, charities and other bodies to ensure vulnerable people were helped.
He said: “At this unprecedented time, volunteers have pulled together to help the vulnerable in our community and those self-isolating which has made a vital difference in keeping them safe and connected with society, whether it has been a simple phone call, collecting shopping or prescriptions, providing information, doing laundry – the list is endless.
“I would like to thank all companies and organisations, such as Jimmy Deane's Fruit and Veg for supporting the Vintage Birdcage Café’s soup delivery service.
“I would also like to thank the individuals who dressed up as superheroes during their daily exercise to visit children in isolation and finally Mr Terry Marsh, DT teacher at Brimsham Green School, who made PPE with the help of key-worker children at school which were donated free to frontline workers. These are just some of the unsung heroes in our community – my thanks to you all.”
Main picture: Volunteers from the Yate and Sodbury Neighbourhood Scheme