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A million thanks: Community spirit shines through as volunteers are recognised for their compassion

Covid-19 has impacted all of us in some way or another but community spirit and resilience has continued to shine through.

Rob Cross at the memorial garden.
Rob Cross at the memorial garden.

In the parish of Brereton and Ravenhill, people came together to provide valuable support including a food bank, shopping and a phone buddies’ befriending scheme.

Dedicated volunteers also gave up their time to hold the hands of sick and dying neighbours when families couldn’t be there.

“Twice we had to break into people’s houses when they were sick with Covid and wait for ambulances when resources were stretched,” said Sue Merriman, community support worker for the local lottery-funded group, Brereton Million.

“We couldn’t help by standing at the door and telling the doctor what we could see so we had to break the rules to go into their homes and explain what we were seeing to get emergency care.

“It was a part of our work that we never advertised but it was vitally important. Some residents were too scared to go into hospital, so we stayed with them.”

Through Brereton Million, village community groups were already connected and working together, raising funds for a playground among other things. During lockdown,brought a whole new dimension to their work with Sue’s home was transformed into a food bank, while residents provided a hotline service for neighbours.

“It all began when the pandemic hit and I spotted an elderly resident who should have been shielding on her way to the shop,” said Sue.

“Her son had Covid and was locked in his room while she was sitting at home watching the news telling her she needed to stay indoors. It turned out she hadn’t eaten for four days and she was absolutely petrified.

“I sent her back home and went to the Co-op for her. That’s when we got talking about how there must be lots of residents like this. The Co-op said they could provide surplus bread and we started knocking on all the doors.”Sue and her team of more than 100 volunteers knocked on 3,500 doors during the pandemic and discovered more vulnerable residents as well as additional people willing to help.

Coming on board were a volunteers co-ordinator and a phone buddies co-ordinator. The same volunteers would help when someone died, too, either as a listening ear or to help with the paperwork.

A craft group was created to make PPE and a book and jigsaw group set up.

“Every time we knocked a door we found a new problem,” she recalls. “Kids with no pens or supplies for school, families struggling for food, disabled people whose support services had stopped. Mental health was at an all-time low.“As we went through the village, we kept appealing for people to help us and we got a volunteer co-ordinator who really jumped on board and started organising a mass of volunteers. We got a phone buddies co-ordinator who would get people to ring those lonely residentswho didn’t have anyone to speak to. The same volunteers were there to help when someone died, whether it was a listening ear or offering help with paperwork associated with dying.

“We had a food co-ordinator who would do brilliant appeals. That led to supermarket lorries turning up at my house with trucks loading up my living room.

Sue added: “We created a craft group who made PPE because we couldn’t get any in the shops. There was a book and jigsaw group set up or residents who were used to going to community groups that had shut down. It just kept growing and growing.”

Rob Cross, a former Army officer, benefited from the Brereton Buddies befriending scheme when he lost his wife Margaret to Motor Neurone Disease. “I volunteered to be a buddy but I found I couldn’t actually cope with that,” said Rob, a former Army officer who has no relatives nearby.

“When I lost my wife, I found I was on the receiving end of the buddy system because Ireally needed the help. It’s made a huge difference to my life and I honestly don’t know how I would have coped without it.”

“It was really helpful to be able to put something in the diary to say I was going to have a phone call on a particular day because it’s so easy to descend into the trough of despair. It’s made a huge difference to my life and I honestly don’t know how I would have coped without it.”Thanks to the group’s work with local teenagers during lockdown, the village has created a memorial garden for people to remember their loved ones.

Although lockdown has ended, the community had already begun developing the connections and projects that started during the pandemic. And, because of this sustained commitment to community support, Brereton Million has been awarded Compassionate Community Charter status by Compassionate Communities UK – the first of many planned for towns and cities across the UK.

The charity behind the new scheme – Compassionate Communities UK – says this is first of many planned for cities, towns and neighbourhoods that can prove they meet strict criteria relating to kindness, compassion and cooperation.

Sue said: “The award is recognition for every single volunteer and resident that worked together. We honestly thank every single one of them from the bottom of our hearts.”

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