Jess Mead Silvester, Community Development Worker for the Invest Local group MaesNi, writes about the community activity that’s been going on in response to the Coronovirus Crisis.
Maesgeirchen (known colloquially as MaesG) and Tan-y-Bryn is an estate of almost 4000 people on the outskirts of Bangor. It’s a strong, close-knit and caring community of ‘doers’ and in this crisis people were quick to pull together to create a strong support system for anyone affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Denise Spence and Beth Hughes, who often cook for 40+ at the weekly Hive community café, immediately shifted their focus to delivering meals to over-70s in isolation. Many volunteers rallied around them to shift catering equipment from the church (which had to close) into an empty office, knock on doors (and step back), source tupperware and overcome the challenges of social distancing, sourcing PPE and shopping restrictions.
The team now deliver 84 meals a week to over-70s in isolation. As well as the warmth of a fresh, home-cooked meal, it’s made a world of difference to some to know they’ve been remembered and they will be seeing someone on a Tuesday evening.
Local councillor, Nigel Pickevance and his wife Vicky made sure that 80 over-70s were supplied with essentials like hand sanitizer and toilet roll during the initial panic-buying; any ongoing essential needs are met as meals are delivered - including Easter eggs!
Dylan Fernley, a local councillor, has been picking up food surplus from local supermarkets – these are sorted (in the borrowed tattoo shop) and delivered to almost 40 households every other day – households who suddenly find themselves struggling financially as workplaces, schools and services, even food banks, closed overnight; many who were on 0-hours contracts are still awaiting their first universal credit payment. Residents at Penrhyn House, a recovery centre in the ward (North Wales Recovery Communities), have cooked up and delivered a whopping 780 meals so far.
There is a helpline, run by MaesNi (Invest Local group) workers so that residents can phone in with requests for help, and details are passed on to groups to add to food rounds or volunteers helping with shopping and prescriptions. It was a busy first few weeks as everyone responded to needs, set up new support systems and sourced funding to cover food. Over 50 prescriptions have been collected, electricity and gas has been topped up, 90 people have accessed the crash-fund to help pay for electricity, gas, sanitary products, baby formula and nappies.
Penrhyn House’s James Deakin crowd-funded the crash-fund to help pay for these essentials after we found that volunteers were being sent to help top up electricity, gas and buy food for people who suddenly found themselves without funds. It was up and running overnight, and over £4000 has already been spent locally. It has also paid for 12 mobile phones so that people can access emergency prescriptions. The crash-fund is administered without fuss or judgement by James and Dylan who purchase the items where possible – no forms, no decision panel – trusting that individuals know what they need; this has been key to reaching those who need it most.
Everyone works together to share resources – relief grants and surplus food, PPE, volunteers, space, kit, knowledge and staff time – and to make sure everyone gets all the help they need by referring across to volunteers for other kinds of help. As things change, we’re responding to new challenges like rising food prices and energy bills (people are at home more) and trying to inject a bit of fun – Wild Elements, MaesNi and Dylan Fernley have delivered plants to 96 households and are holding a sunflower-growing competition as part of activity packs delivered to 300 families. Two streets hold weekly Bingo sessions.
And all that’s without mentioning the many people who are checking on their neighbours, baking cakes for distribution, helping each other out, making donations, sewing scrubs and bags for the care home and hospital staff and cheering each other up.