Monday, 25 May 2020

Villagers come together to help protect vulnerable in virus crisis

Villagers come together to help protect vulnerable in virus crisis

ABOUT 300 volunteers have signed up to help elderly and vulnerable residents in Wargrave during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wargrave Coronavirus Help group was established on Facebook in March by Michele Bryan, who lives in Purfield Drive.

It is a private group and once you are accepted you can express an interest in becoming a volunteer or request help.

Mrs Bryan, who works in administration, said: “I started it before the lockdown and before the children stopped going to school. It has definitely exceeded my expectations.

“I thought initially I would do it as a WhatsApp group and then there were so many people joining, so I thought Facebook would work well.

“In the early days, we had so many volunteers that we had more than we had jobs to hand out to them and they would keep asking if there was anything they could do.

“It has been brilliant to see how the community has come together. We probably have enough volunteers now.”

Leaflets were distributed to every house in the village before the lockdown was introduced. These had the names and contact details of people who were willing to offer support.

There is a spreadsheet on the Facebook page, which details the names and telephone numbers of street co-ordinators, some of whom are responsible for multiple roads.

Volunteers collect food shopping and essential supplies as well as post letters or are available to just have a chat.

Mrs Bryan, who lives with her husband Steve, said some people threw away the original leaflets, fearing they were part of a scam.

“We are keen to keep it as a small operation and one that people can trust,” she said.

“We don’t want potentially vulnerable people to feel at risk. We want them to feel safe and that they can trust the people who are doing these tasks for them.

“We are very fortunate because we have Hare Hatch Sheeplands near us and they have been brilliant with their food collection service.”

People are invited to post ideas on the Facebook page to help families pass the time. These have included sharing puzzles and games and starting a pen pal scheme for residents of care homes. Elijah Elkins, who lives in High Street, is part of the admin team and developed the spreadsheet while his wife Tana designed the leaflets.

Mr Elkins, who works in recruitment in Reading, said: “We have had a number of messages from people thanking us for being willing to help.

“We were fortunate to get all the leaflets sent out before the lockdown started and we have enough volunteers to distribute the tasks evenly so each road has a team co-ordinator and then a smaller group of people to help them if they are particularly busy.”

Alex Sharp, who lives in Victoria Road with her two children, is the street co-ordinator for School Lane and School Hill.

She is a member of the ground staff team for Virgin Atlantic and has been furloughed since the beginning of April.

Mrs Sharp added: “I have been involved since it started. I just want to give something back.

“I collect the items when I do my own shopping, so I am not making any additional journeys.

“When this first started, I think it was important to reassure people who were worried about collecting their prescriptions and food shopping.

“Now the panic buying has stopped and people have relaxed and they are starting to adapt to this new way of life. Community spirit is something Wargrave is well known for. We always want to help each other and you can see when we do the festival every two years that we are a strong community.

“I am part of the organising committee and we have already started to think of some ideas for 2021.”

Megan Rowson lives in High Street and is the co-ordinator for this part of Wargrave.

Normally, she helps organise the weekly luncheon club in the village and is also a volunteer at Citizens Advice in Henley, so she thought it would be a good idea to join the support group.

Mrs Rowson said: “If someone needs help because they are elderly or vulnerable we will help them and I think we were all like that before the lockdown. Wargrave is really community-minded.”

Her husband Will, who works in property, has signed up to be an NHS volunteer and she has registered with Wargrave and Twyford volunteers drivers.

The couple, who have lived in Wargrave for more than six years, have a son who has just finished at Leighton Park School in Reading and a daughter who is studying at Nottingham University.

Christie Sneddon, a professional dog walker, who lives in Hamilton Road, is her street’s co-ordinator while her husband Jim does the same for Silverdale Road and Clifton Rise. Mr Sneddon, an information security consultant, said: “We have tried to be proactive and help people who are self-isolating with their shopping.

“It is that wartime spirit where everybody mucks in together and there has been a real feeling of everyone wanting to be a part of that effort.

“Even though we are socially distancing and having less contact with each other, this has actually brought us all closer together.”

Emma Brundson is the
co-ordinator for Fidlers Walk, where she lives with her husband Tim and seven-year-old daughter Catherine.

She is a self-employed virtual assistant and has been able to continue working during the lockdown.

Mrs Brundson said: “It has not been a surprise to me that a lot of people want to help. I have lived here for 16 years and it is such a nice community.

“I am more than happy to help out with some shopping, getting medical supplies, or even just having a chat over the phone — sometimes that’s all that’s needed.

“If the lockdown continues for a long period it will just be important for people in the village to know we are here and that they are not on their own.”

To access the Wargrave Coronavirus Help group, call Mrs Bryan on 07966 585529 or visit

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