“We all thought lockdown was going to last a few weeks then everything would go back to normal!” says Sophie, 38. “Three days in, we had 30 members, so me and my son did food parcels for people who were shielding and everything snowballed from there.
“Six weeks in, we had 3,500 people in the group,” adds Sophie, from Leyland herself. “We’ve grown, but everything we do is still community-based and the response from local people has been really positive.
“If there hadn’t been a gap for us, we wouldn’t still be here and we offer people a really crucial community link,” continues Sophie. “In lockdown, the group made life a lot easier for people: knowing other people are pulling their hair out at home like you really can help!
“It’s also really helped me,” she adds. “I’ve got five kids at home, so it’s given me something to do as well because my initial reaction to lockdown was ‘oh my God, I’m going to be at home on my own with five kids 24/7’. I’m really proud of what we’ve done, I love it.”
Now a well-established non-profit organisation based on Dunkirk Lane which offers unconditional support and runs various community outreach projects, Leyland CNOS has gone from combatting the mental and social impact of lockdown to a more holistic remit.
Run by eight volunteers, it now runs a slate of in-person events such as coffee mornings, youth groups, food services and a community shop, a ladies’ group, a toddlers’ group, and a monthly afternoon tea for elderly people at The British Commercial Vehicle Museum.
“Meeting in-person again was great; you could actually physically feel the happiness and it made the sense of community even stronger,” says Sophie. “For two years, we avoided each other, so to come together, laugh, and joke whilst enjoying a sense of normality was huge.
“One lady’s husband has dementia and he was in a care home for a while, which she found difficult because they’d been together a long time,” she adds. “They came to afternoon tea and he met someone he was in a band with about 40 years ago and he remembered him.
“They were chatting and laughing and reminiscing, so she sent me a lovely letter after saying she’d got a bit of him back. That kind of thing makes it all worthwhile.”
The cost of living crisis, however, is causing great concern.
“We’re worried because I think it’s going to be a really difficult time for so many people,” explains Sophie. “We’re seeing a 50% increase in demand for our food services but a 90% decrease in donations because people who’d normally donate are struggling themselves.
“But I just want to thank the community for keeping us going, because we aren’t supported by anyone but those who donate.”