Ottery Community Volunteers to provide long-term support for residents

PUBLISHED: 11:51 25 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:22 25 May 2020

Ottery St Mary town centre. Ref sho 12 20TI 7853 Picture: Terry Ife

Ottery St Mary town centre. Ref sho 12 20TI 7853 Picture: Terry Ife

Terry Ife

Long-term benefits will come out of the coronavirus crisis in Ottery St Mary, as the team of community volunteers sets up new services that will continue after lockdown ends.

Hundreds of volunteers have been helping those in need since the start of lockdown, enabling them to stay safe in their homes by taking care of their shopping, prescriptions and other necessities.

Now the group have been making plans for their long-term activities after the Covid-19 threat has been addressed.

Stewart Lucas, town councillor and director of the Ottery Community Volunteers, has provided this report on what they are planning to do.

“Ottery Community Volunteers has been up and running within the parish of Ottery St Mary for nearly three months now. Everything we have done has been for the purpose of fulfilling our mission statement ‘to deliver essential and sustainable support to our community in its time of need’.

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in all of us facing profound changes to our lives. The need for social distancing and lockdown resulted in many of us being suddenly unable to work, carry out our normal routines or visit family & friends. Many people have lost income and in some cases even ended up unemployed. Older people and those classed as vulnerable have been completely housebound, often cut off from their normal support networks and social circles. People have sadly lost loved ones and have been subjected to a situation which has caused much emotional and mental stress. We have all had to accept the ‘new normal’ and endeavour to cope with the myriad challenges it has brought.

In order to help people through this time and provide support regardless of age or circumstance we have recruited hundreds of volunteers, delivered thousands of items of food and essential supplies and collected & delivered over 400 pharmacy prescriptions. We have produced leaflets and information for people signposting them to local businesses capable of delivering various essential supplies.

One of the key aspects of supporting our community is ensuring that we keep the risk of transmission & infection as low as possible. By ensuring that people can get food shopping, essential supplies and prescriptions delivered to their home we have been able to significantly reduce the amount of people going out and have also taken a lot of pressure off the local pharmacies. We have also implemented a risk management policy designed to keep our volunteer force safe. Anyone on active delivery duty gets issued with a VHF radio, any PPE required and a high visibility vest. We also use a rota system to make sure people get adequate rest days in order to limit exposure. Everything we do is considered carefully in regard to balancing the provision of our service and activity against potential infection risk.

We have actively sought to identify funding opportunities and have been successful in securing over £15,000 from various sources including Devon County Council, East Devon District Council, Ottery St Mary Town Council, The National Lottery and private donors. We are extremely grateful to all and will ensure this money is put to good use. Our Gofundme page is active and can be found here

Most people will be very aware that we are now entering into a new phase of this crisis. Government guidance is moving towards a gradual easing of lockdown measures. There is still much uncertainty in regards to the many challenges our communities face. We have to observe various guidelines as we go about our lives and work in order to keep the risk of infection contained while transitioning to a less strict control of activities. There will still be many people left unable to work and a significant amount of the most vulnerable that are advised to maintain isolation and shielding. Our service will remain operational in order to ensure that these people will have access to help and support.

Currently we are looking to the future, trying to anticipate key areas of concern, the difficulties yet to be faced and to ensure that we are well placed to meet them. We know from the government and medical advice that there is still significant risk to people from this virus. There have been a lot of news articles recently talking about the potential for a second wave of infection and also the economic impacts that will likely cause hardships for many people. It will be essential for us to plan ahead effectively, so that no matter what happens we are adequately prepared to offer help where it is needed.

To this end we intend to evolve Ottery Community Volunteers beyond being a ‘crisis support group’ and start to develop strategies which will build more local resilience overall in the long term. We have already been working cooperatively alongside other organisations such as Ottery Help Scheme, Ottery St Mary Town Council and the Food Bank. We believe that there is opportunity, need and potential benefit in expanding on this local community cooperation with other groups. The lessons we have learned from this crisis have effectively highlighted that we are stronger together.

Current projects and initiatives being worked on include the following:

Ottery Community Cafe

We are have just launched the Ottery Community Cafe which is an online service provided by our volunteers that have qualifications and experience in offering mental health services. You can find more details about this here

The ‘Staycation’

One of the most significant dilemmas and threats facing local economies currently is that the ongoing Covid-19 crisis will have a huge negative impact on the tourist industry. Many people depend on the income generated by tourism and are not likely to easily survive a large downturn in revenue. We want to help support local tourist based businesses by encouraging the ‘staycation’. This idea comprises of two key parts. Firstly that those in the tourism sector are encouraged to offer incentives for people to book their holidays within their local area. Secondly that people actively seek to book holidays, visits and activities locally. We are currently reaching out to various organisations in order to further develop this idea and hope that, with the right support, it could gain momentum.

Finally, to everyone that has supported us so far. If you are a volunteer, a donor or an organisation that has helped us and been part of our efforts we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We could not have done this without you! We believe that our way of life, our part of the world and our communities represent something special. We are committed to keeping it that way and helping to bring people together so that we can face whatever the future may have in store for us.

Anyone wanting to join us or that wants to find out more information can either email us at help@ottery.online or look us up via Ottery Community Volunteers on Facebook.”

STEWART LUCAS


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