Long-running community groups shine through amid Coronavirus outbreak

Katherine Johnston (03 April, 2020)

While it's great that so many new ones are forming, those with experience and the right skills are going the extra mile

26907A volunteer at Pecan foodbank pictured in 2018

We are all in this together, and it is only by pulling together and supporting one another that we will get through this and – just maybe – come out a stronger community than before.

One cliche the pandemic will hopefully bury once and for all is the often completely wrong idea that Londoners don’t talk to the people next door and that neighbourliness is a thing of the past.

The most successful community groups responding to this crisis are being led by local figureheads who already have experience mobilising volunteers.  Many have been supporting OAPs, young families, and people in other ‘at risk’ groups for a long time before anyone had heard of a new disease called Coronavirus.

Under the surface there has always been a vast array of fantastic work going on in Southwark. Much of it is unpaid, and in anti-social hours after work.  Having more people inspired to join this effort in this time of crisis is a positive outcome.

But there is also expertise and knowledge about how to work safely –  and following the right guidelines with money, data protection, and vulnerable groups – that is needed. There will be well-meaning people who want to help, but really need a professional social worker or carer to step in.

We’d like to see a ‘verified by the council’ scheme for Mutual Aid groups and other initiatives. Having this status would mean people can have the utmost confidence in organisations that are doing vital work. It could also ensure that people with extra caring skills or financial oversight were more able to offer this help.

It’s only going to get harder in the coming weeks. One in three TfL workers are off sick or self isolating. Schools were struggling to stay open before the government announced full closures – except for keyworker children – because of absences.

The NHS, police, and other frontline services are calling for ex-staff and retirees to return to their ranks to fill shortages. We can only assume that volunteer groups will also see people unable to make deliveries or help residents with their day-to-day errands if they too are falling ill or being quarantined. On Tuesday, King’s confirmed the youngest victim of the disease, a boy just thirteen, had died.

If anything can keep our spirits up it is the love and appreciation for our NHS staff and other carers shown in last week’s Clap For Our Carers.  We were overwhelmed by the number of videos you shared with us – especially from areas nearest to King’s and Guy’s.

You clapped loud. They heard you. Now they need proper equipment and – finally – extensive testing.

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