When I knew I’d be moving to Leek, I looked on Facebook for a Covid mutual aid group — having been a volunteer for the one in Sunderland. Survive Together <green heart symbol> Leek looked really active. I spoke to Grace Buckley in July. Here are excerpts from what she said.
We weren’t a group before Covid. I was a support worker and knew we would be working home more. A few of us just wanted to help people in the local area. Then it snowballed into a huge project.
We made a Facebook group to bring people together. The idea was just to help out a few streets near me. But, eventually, we had every street covered by a volunteer. Every house would have a leaflet with that specific volunteer’s name and number on.
For serious lockdown, it was just amazing because everyone had someone. Three hundred volunteers! Lost quite a few of them now, obviously, with them going back to work and lockdown easing. But a lot of people are still supporting people who are still shielding.
Our volunteers were doing food shops, medication picking up, like, prescriptions. Checking in on people, having someone to talk to. I think that’s what the group became a lot of is a source of community for people. It was quite scary and lonely for a lot of people who live alone and would normally go out to see friends and chat.
Some of the local councillors were covering more than 10 streets.
It didn’t overlap with the Royal Voluntary Service app. That came in really late. A lot of people we work with had already formed relationships with their volunteers.
We had the government boxes when they came in and we thought that would be really useful (they delivered them to people who were shielding). But there was so much confusion: they were being delivered to the wrong houses and some people who were shielding were not getting them. And, again, people by then just stuck to what they already knew.
We’ve got a volunteer guide which lays out what they should and shouldn’t do. We said, “Don’t do anything that you normally wouldn’t do just because it’s not a normal situation. You wouldn’t normally send a stranger to the shop with your bank card, don’t do that now neither. The best way to operate is, if you’re doing food shopping for someone, you pay for it out of your own pocket and then get the money back in the end because that way the risk is a lot less than you’re going to do food shopping for someone and then they go, ‘I’m not paying you.’ Then they’re just not going to get their food shopping, which is better than if they gave you the money. Don’t do anything that you’re not comfortable with. But, if you’re not DBS checked, you cannot take money from people in that way.”
We weren’t trapped by red tape like a lot of people are. Especially at the beginning, it was “Help who you can, forget all the rules.” But now we have liability in place.
Now we’re doing more community-based projects as well. There’s a team of us. Eight of us who are high up management-type people organising everything. One hundred people are still consistently doing stuff. Litter picks, delivery of entertainment packs for kids. There’s sort of floating volunteers where, if they’re free, they’ll do it.
We want to open a (working title) ‘community hub’ with food, bit like a community food pantry, taking food waste. It makes it more available to everyone. It’s a sort of pay-what-you-feel. So no one goes hungry. So people who normally couldn’t eat out, can eat out.
We want to continue all the community pojects that we’re doing. Hopefully getting everyone in the community involved. So that no one feels isolated. There’s quite a lot of poverty work that I want to do. I like working with ex-offenders and addicts and stuff. There isn’t a lot for young people and children in Leek. so we’re hoping to change that.