Volunteers who joined a town’s Covid-19 response group and helped feed and befriend more than 2,000 people could continue their work after the pandemic. The Royal Wootton Bassett Covid-19 Mutual Aid Group, which mobilised almost 400 volunteers at the height of the lockdown, used a £2,000 grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund to help supply food boxes to isolated pensioners and low-income families.
The fund, launched to help groups across the county cope with the fallout from the pandemic, has now raised more than £890,000 and distributed £566,000 to 153 groups so far.
With many volunteers returning to work the group has seen its work decrease but committee member James Shannon said there is still a strong will to continue. “We’ve recently just gone out and asked how many volunteers are still available and we have around 80 who are still helping or are still able to help. We are very much planning on staying around in case of a second wave or if people are made redundant when furlough ends,” he said.
“We are moving into a holding pattern as people go back to work but we are ready to spring into action should we be needed. We want to see how things progress before we make any definite plans.”
He founded the group after seeing people offering to help with shopping and collecting prescriptions on Facebook. He combined his job as an audio engineer at Pinewood Studios with organising volunteers and working with Imagine Cruising to run a call centre so people could ask for help.
He said: “I could just see a need and wanted to help people. I just had to quickly build a group of people and I was very lucky in who I found.
“Very quickly we realised there were two things that were needed, food boxes for people who were waiting for Universal Credit or those who were getting help from foodbanks, and to help the pharmacies with deliveries.“
Mr Shannon said one of the biggest issues is people not knowing where to go, or being unwilling to ask for help. “We have seen people who have fallen through the cracks generally, they are in need and don’t get the help they require, some people just aren’t aware of the help that is out there.
“We’ve also noticed quite a lot of people don’t like going to ‘official places’. They might have a temporary need, but they don’t want to go on a list as someone who has got mental health requirements or are struggling or have had to claim benefit or whatever.”
The group has forged links with several others in the area, including Link6, which provides transport and befriending in Royal Wootton Bassett and Broad Town.
He said: “We haven’t decided yet what we are going to do longer term after Covid but certainly this has highlighted issues. If we do carry on, we will either fold into existing structures or maybe help with signposting people to where they can get help.
“We’ve set up a committee and we’ve added people and one of those we’ve brought in is Tony Cole who helps run Link6. One area they have struggled with in the past is volunteers so this is the kind of group we might work with in the future.”
Find the group on Facebook.
Fiona Oliver, interim co-chief executive of Wiltshire Community Foundation, said: “We are so thankful for the donations we’ve received and proud that we have used them to fund so many inspiring groups responding to the need in their communities. But we are still receiving many applications and it is clear that the demand for funding as a result of the coronavirus and subsequent lockdown is going to continue for some time to come.”
To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.