Western Daily Press (Saturday)
TEENAGER STARTS SCHEME TO HELP LOCKED DOWNTOWN
THE coronavirus outbreak is continuing to bring the best out of our communities. New initiatives to help the most vulnerable are being launched across the West.
In Devizes, Wiltshire, Joe Brindle, aged 17, created a Covid-19 Support Group to help needy residents in the town.
In less than a week a call centre for people self-isolating was launched with the help of Devizes Town Council and so far nearly 350 people have signed up to help deliver food and medicine to the most vulnerable.
Joe said: “I have seen a few places where letters have been sent to vulnerable people offering support during the virus outbreak and I thought ‘why can’t we do something like that in Devizes’.
“So I got in touch with my dad [the Rev Dr Keith Brindle of St James Church) and asked him if he could help.
“We arranged a meeting on the following evening with a few people from the church and by Wednesday [March 18] we were running volunteer drop-in sessions at St James Church.
“We held another two volunteer sessions on the Friday and Saturday.
“Meanwhile on the Thursday we worked with the town council to set up a call centre, which is now running from 8am to 6pm every day.
“The town council also helped us by printing more than 10,000 leaflets, which we posted to every house in Devizes to let them know about the group.”
If a vulnerable resident, who is self isolating, needs support with shopping or collecting medicine they can call the town council’s number and their request will be logged and picked up by one of the many volunteers.
Joe said: “I think in times like this, the community comes together and people start to really care for their neighbours; there’s quite a big elderly community in Devizes.
“We started posting leaflets on Friday. We didn’t get many calls at first, but we’ve just received our 360th call today. It’s moved a lot faster than we
thought. We’ve had the most amazing response from volunteers. I’m amazed by how many people have come forward.”
He said the support offered by the group has been welcomed by elderly residents in the area.
Joe also praised Devizes Town Council for its support.
He said: “We thought they might be helpful, but we had no idea how helpful.
“We made a difficult request to set up a call centre and within a few days it was set up.”
Cllr Laura Mayes of Wiltshire Council has been supporting the group.
She said: “This service is a brilliant way for the community to come together.
“We have people answering phones, sending volunteers out to help – it’s like a taxi service.
“Everyone is very grateful for the support. Our strapline is ‘We’re here, so you can stay at home’.”
Joe said he learned how to organise people as a campaigner for the UK Student Climate Network.
His father Keith said: “It’s very much in Joe’s nature to see a problem or an issue and respond to it.
“He has a can-do attitude and meets every hurdle as he faces it with an almost naive optimism, which comes with being a 17-year-old.”
In Bristol, volunteers came to the aid of Bannerman Road Community Academy to help deliver free school meals to families in the form of food parcels.
The school’s vice principal, Tracy Jones, said: “We have been putting together weekly food parcels so children who are entitled to free school meals don’t miss out.
“The food parcels included potatoes, bread, cheese, baked beans, flapjacks, apples, those sorts of things, and were put together by the school’s catering team.
“We were amazed that around 10 volunteers, all from the local area, put themselves forward to help deliver the parcels.
“Some families are self isolating, so couldn’t come to the school to collect the food.
“All the families were very grateful; some of them even rang in to say thank you.”
She praised all the volunteers for their help.
“They’re part of a volunteer group in Easton,” she said. “I know a local councillor who is part of the group and her son attended the school, so I asked her to put the word out.”
She added: “Some of the families we delivered to find it hard to access food and it’s even harder at the moment. I came away feeling humbled by the people of Easton.”
Helen Ashley, one of the volunteers, said: “We’re a group of neighbours who live around Bannerman School.
“We have been leafleting our neighbours including schools and residential homes to see if we can help by getting food and medication or by being a friendly voice on the end of the phone.
“Our work with the school to help with the weekly delivery of free school meals for families is part of that.”
We made a difficult request to set up a call centre and within a few days it was set up JOE BRINDLE