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Sunday, 11 April 2021
VOLUNTEERS in Henley have delivered food and other essential items to people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
They are part of the Henley Covid-19 Mutual Aid Group, which is co-ordinating efforts to keep people across the town supplied.
The group has about 2,000 members and has divided the town into areas, each covering about 80 households.
Many of the people who are receiving the ongoing deliveries are self-isolating to avoid contracting the virus.
Some have other health conditions, which make them vulnerable to the disease, and have decided to stay at home and rely on the generosity of the volunteers to keep them supplied.
Mary Spargo, 94, of King’s Close, is self-isolating because her age means she is at higher risk of severe illness.
Volunteer Pamela Cook, 51, of King’s Road, is supporting her by doing her shopping.
Mrs Spargo was put in touch with Ms Cook by the mutual aid group and had a delivery of fresh vegetables, including cabbages and broccoli, on Saturday.
Ms Cook called Mrs Spargo to let her know she would be doing her shopping.
She found out what she wanted before going to Waitrose early to shop with elderly residents.
After she had paid for Mrs Spargo’s items, she phoned her to let her know she was dropping the food outside her front door.
Ms Cook held up a sign, which read “Hello, Mary, it’s Pamela” so Mrs Spargo knew it was her.
She said: “I’m helping because I can and I think it’s a great thing to be doing. I’m conscious a lot of people in the community don’t know each other as well as they should.
“This is a great way of giving people support and a lot of them are really grateful. We’ve had lots of calls from people saying ‘thank you, it’s really nice we have support’.
“I just got her the papers and her groceries. I think people are really happy to know that we are around but they’re worried about the future.”
Mrs Spargo said: “She’s offering to do anything. All I need is help with my shopping, which she has very kindly agreed to do for me. I’ve got her number if I should need anything.
“I feel very relieved, partly for my daughter, who lives in Ewelme. Of course, I’m very old but this has taken the pressure off my daughter to look after me. She’s very relieved because she has spent a lot of her time worrying what would happen to me if she became ill.
“She has a daughter who just came back from university and anyone could be ill at any time, you just don’t know. It’s a relief for my daughter to know that I’m not going to sit here and starve.
“I think the volunteers are doing a fantastic job. Pamela very sweetly brought some daffodil buds with her. It’s very sweet of her and she seems a lovely person. I never knew she existed until the weekend.”
Volunteer Andrea Peart, 48, of Remenham Hill, has agreed to support five people who contacted her for help.
She said: “I’m picking up prescriptions and I’ve got shopping lists coming out of my ears for these individuals.”
Among the recipients is Linda and Brant Harrison, both 67, who also live in Remenham Hill.
Mrs Harrison said: “I don’t know what I would do without Andrea because my husband is an extremely high risk case. He has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“I have it too as well as asthma and it affects our lungs and breathing, so obviously we’re quite high risk.
“We’re both self-isolating and we’re just doing it for as long as we possibly can because we don’t want to catch anything. We’re both very concerned, I would say, because the guidelines that have been given to us vary and nobody is 100 per cent sure what to do or what not to do.
“You get silly students who go out and go for a rave and I don’t know why they want to potentially affect their own families.
“There’s no two ways about it, having Andrea’s support has given us peace of mind. She doesn’t mind whatever we ask her to do. She can pop out and go to the shops and then drop everything outside our back door.
“Without her I think I would have just given up. You just can’t imagine how much of a lifeline it is to know there are people out there who want to help and care.
“She has been out and got us food for the cats and the dog, biscuits, milk and bread. She’s also doing her own online shop and has asked us if we’d like to tag along on the end of that. There’s no pressure and she’s not bothered at all either way.
“I would encourage anybody that’s physically able to help to just sign up and support as much as you can. We all need to help each other to get through this. The more people that help, the better it’s going to be.
“If anything happens to Andrea then somebody else, another volunteer, can help. If she hadn’t been out for us we possibly would’ve been without food, so people like her are just amazing and it’s so heartening to know there are good people out there.”
Mrs Peart said: “I’ve had a couple of conversations with people who are over 70 and they felt vulnerable in the supermarkets.
“They said it was frightening and crazy. One of them told me she was scared. She said it wasn’t just the vulnerable going in and it was literally just a crush.
“There will be bigger shops to do and volunteers will also begin doing runs to the butchers or for prescriptions. Some people also want technical support so they can use things like video conferencing.
“One person has said to me, ‘thank you so much because I’ve been really worried about this’. Another said, ‘I’m not sure what I would do without you’ because people can’t get online shopping.
“I keep getting messages saying ‘thank you so much’ and ‘you’re so kind’. I can’t tell you how happy people are when they are being helped. I’m just doing my best because other people are doing their bit to help my parents.
“For me it’s really important that if you’re fit and healthy you do your best to help the community because we don’t know if we will need that help at some point.
“Because I was helping people that I knew already, it just made sense to do it. People are going to be stuck indoors for months and they just need help. It’s going to affect everybody of all ages and we need more people to volunteer.”
Michael McDonagh, of Gainsborough Hill, Henley, offered to help Julie Maxx, of Gainsborough Crescent, whose son Tyler, 21, has cerebral palsy and is vulnerable to the virus.
He bought her loo roll, disinfectant and bread last week and said she was “absolutely delighted”.
Mr McDonagh said: “I realised she was struggling and saw her post on the mutual aid group Facebook page.
“The more we work together, the sooner we can come out on the other side. We’re all worried about what the future holds. Knock on your neighbour’s door, especially if they’re elderly, and help.”
Ms Maxx, 54, said: “It was really, really good help. It’s nice to know that somebody is there. I just couldn’t get any eggs or milk anywhere.
“I have to do everything for my son but I can’t take him out because I could risk him getting this virus. I can’t go shopping till later in the afternoon and my partner is at work and starts really early.”
Emma Taylor, 45, of Western Avenue, is also volunteering to support people in need.
She posted a Mother’s Day card for Jo McDonagh, of Gainsborough Hill.
Mrs Taylor said: “I know Jo and she is considered to be high risk. She just asked if someone could help her because she wanted to post her Mother’s Day card to her mother-in-law in Northern Ireland quite urgently.
“I went round and picked it up from her keeping at arm’s length and then went round to the post office. However, they told me next-day delivery had been suspended so I sent it first class.
“Jo is isolating at home. She does have her husband but she realised it needed to go and he was going out to work.
“She seemed really grateful and relieved that I would offer to help. I could tell from her messages that it was a little bit of a worry for her.
“I just felt that at this time, it’s those connections with family that feel more important than normal. I could see that it was really important to her. Our aim is to make sure that no one is missed out and everyone gets support. This is why we as a support group have adopted a town-wide approach. We have gone for this co-operative approach and the response has been amazing.
“The town has really pulled together and we have up to 2,000 people on the Facebook group. This time last week it didn’t exist and we only had a Skype meeting about this on the Monday evening last week.
“We have an amazing bunch of people in Henley and I’m very aware that everyone is pitching in. It’s such a relief to know there are people to call on if we can’t get out to buy food.
“People in the streets where I’m helping are so glad to know the support is there and if they need it there’s a number to call.”
Mrs McDonagh said she and her husband appreciated the support.
She said: “It was great because if we didn’t get the letter posted on Friday it wasn’t going to get there for Saturday. We wanted to make sure that my mother-in-law was aware we were thinking of her.
“The support is really good for everybody. I’m normally out and about doing lots for everyone else. Just to have that little bit of support if you’re short of something or being able to send a little message if you need something is really good.”
To contact the mutual aid group, email email@example.com
Neil Gunnell has been part of a neighbourhood watch group on the Wootton Manor estate in Henley for 10 years.
There are 24 volunteers in the area who have contacted between 250 and 300 houses by email and delivered leaflets to offer support.
Mr Gunnell has delivered 130 leaflets in addition to 125 emails to residents in the area.
He said: “The key is for people to watch out for their very local neighbours. We also encouraged people to send a smaller contact sheet to their immediate neighbours.”
Residents have asked him to shop and he has spoken to others about the support he can offer.
“I have bought for two so far and specifically reassured three other concerned households in the over-70s category not to worry,” he said.
“I have also had general contact, reassuring phone calls, with perhaps six others and received many emails back thanking me and saying that they are reassured someone is here.
“We are getting the same message. People are short of things like bread, milk and vegetables.”
He hopes one effect of the virus will be to bring people together and improve community engagement.
“It’s a relatively old-fashioned concept but actually we need a new generation of people to help others,” he said. “I’ve had lots of messages from people saying they really appreciate the support. They feel there’s someone to turn to.”
Mr Gunnell and the other volunteers are providing support to people in the area from Manor Road to the end of Makins in conjunction with the Henley Covid-19 Mutual Aid Group. To volunteer, email
30 March 2020
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