"You are not alone": councils and communities come together to feed Central Lancashire's vulnerable during coronavirus crisis
Residents across Central Lancashire who are struggling for basic supplies and support during the coronavirus crisis are being reassured that they will get the help that they need.
Community food hubs have been established by all of the area’s councils to look after the most vulnerable members of the population, as the outbreak confines many of them to their homes.
Local authorities were ordered to establish the networks to help the 1.5m people nationwide told by the government to “shield” themselves for at least 12 weeks because existing health conditions put them at particular risk from Covid-19. Government-supplied food parcels for this group will ultimately be delivered directly to their homes after an initial period during which councils will provide essentials in the short-term.
But local authorities are also using the hubs to co-ordinate a huge public and voluntary sector effort to ensure that nobody in a vulnerable position is left alone to face the fallout from the pandemic.
That means support will also be provided for the over-70s and other people told to follow the most stringent social distancing advice – as well as those self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms – and who have nobody else to call upon.
The government and local authorities have been drawing up lists of people who may be vulnerable.
But the message to anybody who feels that they have been left isolated by the outbreak is simple - the only criteria for receiving help is that your council knows you need it.
All of the local authorities in Central Lancashire are now running contact centres to make sure that the right support gets to the right people (see our directory here)
The Post has been getting a flavour of how the county is coming together to keep people fed…
Preston is gearing up to be able to feed as many as 12,000 families, should it be necessary, in the difficult days ahead as a result of the coronavirus.
A total of 22 community hubs have been set up across the city, each being run either by schools, community groups or charities – with support from Preston City Council, which revealed the figures to the Post.
Supplies for the gargantuan task are coming from the surplus food redistribution charity FareShare and delivered via Preston-based Recycling Lives.
Katie Upton, marketing manager at Recycling Lives, says that the sudden increase in demand has been met with “overwhelming support” from local businesses.
“We usually get a lot of food from supermarkets and we still are, but now businesses in the hospitality sector, which have had to close their doors, are also making donations.
“Together, it means we can offer a lot of fresh fruit, veg and chilled products – which is vital to ensure that everybody gets healthy and tasty food.
“We’ve got the infrastructure in place because of the work we already do, but we’ve obviously had to change our working practices like everybody else.
“The priority is to get this food to where it’s needed and we’re going to carry on doing what we do,” Katie added.
Meanwhile, at social enterprise café The Larder, in Preston city centre, founder Kay Johnson is trying to provide something a little different – in the form of ready-prepared, hot food. The meals are currently being distributed via organisations including Age Concern Central Lancashire and the Foxton Centre, but Kay hopes that she will soon be in a position to accept individual referrals.
“There are some people who aren’t in a position to cook for themselves or don’t have the facilities – so we want to make sure people are still getting nutritious food,” Kay explained.
“I’ve got some of my own staff and a whole team of volunteer drivers who are actually being co-ordinated by one of my customers, who has experience in that type of work.
“We set up a crowdfunding page and have already received £5,500 – our aim is to get to £25,000 which would enable us to provide 10,000 meals.
“So many organisations have come together and we’re all basically making it up as we go along, but we have managed to create quite a slick operation which is ready to scale up”.
Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown paid tribute to all those enabling the operation to happen.
“It says a lot about the people of Preston that there has been such a fantastic response, with people asking to volunteer or putting their hand in their pocket. Everybody has been really kind-hearted and supportive of others during a time of crisis.
“I also want to thank the council’s staff, who have been real heroes – and as an authority we are going above and beyond what the government says we should be doing.
“There will also be issues with mental health and people in abusive relationships during this crisis, so we need to get awareness of those kinds of situations out there as well.
“It’s very much a collaborative effort - and it needs to be,” Cllr Brown added.
Preston City Council has also set up a dedicated section on its website detailing the support being offered to individuals and businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
At the Civic Centre in Leyland, rooms which are usually the scene of combative council meetings are now the focus of a collaborative effort to keep kitchen cupboards stocked across South Ribble.
The Post understands that South Ribble Borough Council is buying thousands of pounds of food per day – as well as receiving welcome donations from local branches of Booths, Asda and Waitrose.
“The cabinet have made it clear that nobody is to go hungry,” explained Rebecca Heap, the authority’s community involvement manager.
“I’ll admit that we might not always be able to put together the most inspiring selection, but people are really grateful for it.”
Rebecca added that the most important thing was that she and her team know who needs help.
“We would much rather somebody heard from us several times over than not hearing from us at all.
“We are using various databases – such as the electoral role and those signed up to assisted bin collections – to try to identify who needs support.
“But we know we’ll miss some people – so if anybody knows of someone who they think might be in need, please tell us. However, we also know that many people will have great networks of family and friends – and we don’t want to intrude in that case,” said Rebecca, who is leading the South Ribble Together initiative co-ordinating the work.
The hub has been delivering food parcels for over a week already and the authority says that it will also be adding other essentials to its delivery parcels in the coming days – such as household goods and pet food. Donations will continue to be welcomed from businesses – as well new carrier bags, which are currently in short supply.
Rebecca also paid tribute to her colleagues for throwing their weight behind the mammoth effort.
“It’s not about what you normally do for your day job, but just doing whatever needs to be done – whether that is packing parcels or making deliveries.”
Council leader Paul Foster has moved to reassure residents who have been plunged into uncertainty by the outbreak: “Please know you are not alone and our teams are here to help you,” he said.
“We all find ourselves in an unprecedented situation and we are determined as a council to offer help and support for those in our communities who need it.
“I urge anybody who is struggling to call or email us.
“We’re also encouraging people to check on those in their communities. If you suspect someone needs help – possibly a neighbour – let us know. We will do all we can to help.”
In Chorley, the borough council’s service lead for communities, Angela Barrago, said that the food hub in the district had been receiving “a high volume of calls” since being set up last week.
“[That] is great, because we want to get to those people who are in need,” she explained.
“There is no single group that is most affected by this. It might be slightly older people who are now having to stay at home and haven’t got any family nearby – or maybe they do have family, but they are having to self-isolate.
“It could be whole family groups who are self-isolating because of [coronavirus] symptoms and they need food or medication collecting.
“There’s also the question of where somebody lives – it might be a long country lane with just a few houses and where all the residents are elderly, meaning neighbours cannot help each other.”
The Chorley hub is providing food parcels directly to those who need them – and is receiving welcome support from local businesses, which it would like to encourage yet further.
But the borough is also trying to underpin the mammoth effort being made by established community groups which have also swung into action.
“We are trying to supply these organisations and keep them running.
“If we give somebody a food parcel, it might last them for a few days – but if we can look at a list of community groups and work out what is on offer in that area, even better.
“We want to know about everything that is happening – every little street activity, every small church group.
“The volunteer support from Chorley has been amazing – there has been a constant stream of groups and individuals getting in touch,” said Angela, who is overseeing the Chorley Together initiative.
That army of volunteers is also set to benefit from its own support network which the council is working to establish – to enable the sharing of information, ideas and even just motivation.
Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley said: “I am completely overwhelmed with how the Chorley community has come together in these trying times.
“Our team are ready and prepped to take calls or messages from people who need support and we will do all we can to help.
“We’re absolutely dedicated to helping our most in need during these trying times, but we cannot do this alone.
“I want to thank all those individuals and businesses who have helped us so far and there are still a number of groups who really need some additional volunteers. All of your support is vital.”
Wyre Council has formed a series of community response teams to co-ordinate the help being offered to vulnerable people across the borough. The authority has also written to everybody in the area over the age of 70 to make them aware of the help that they can request.
The council is working with existing groups and volunteers to maximise the impact of its efforts.
Council leader David Henderson said: "Our staff are working around the clock to get our community response teams ready to help those who most need it. There is some brilliant work already going on in the community and we are not going to duplicate this, we are looking to see how best we can support it and share messages about what’s out there.
“Many people who are in self-isolation have the help of friends or family to make this difficult time a little easier, but some people don’t. Wyre Together will make sure these people are not left alone. Support is available and our teams are ready to help.”
COMMUNITY HUB DIRECTORY
If you or somebody you know of is struggling or in need of support during the coronavirus crisis, please contact the relevant council team:
Call: 01257 515 151 and press zero when prompted (lines open Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm)
Call: 01253 658448
Call: 01772 906777 (lines open Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm)
Call: 01200 414597
Call: 01772 625 625 (lines open Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm)
Call: 0800 616 667
Call: 01253 891000
LANCASHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
Call: 0300 123 6720 (during office hours) or 0300 123 6722 (outside normal hours)