Local charities and churches have been working together with Wokingham Borough Council to coordinate the most effective response for borough residents to the coronavirus crisis.
Last week, we joined the call for volunteers to step forward to ensure every vulnerable resident got the help they needed.
Since then, there has been an outpouring of help.
The Give Help Get Help campaign has seen organisations such as Citizens Advice, The Wokingham Volunteer Centre, Involve Community Services, The Link Visiting Scheme, First Days, Wokingham Foodbank and Age UK Berkshire join forces, adapting their way of working to support the community in the safest ways possible.
It has been a mammoth effort and is paying dividends, with the launch of a new community hub and councillors and political supporters volunteering to deliver leaflets to every home in the borough. They were all wearing disposable gloves to minimise risk of spreading the virus.
For those needing help, Citizens Advice Wokingham are able to point people in the right direction and connect them to the most appropriate organisation to help.
Jake Morrison, the charity’s chief executive, said: “We are the One Front Door, if someone has a problem we’re the first port of call.
“We look at as many avenues as possible to support people and are flexible enough to look at what people actually need.
“We are reviewing daily how we’re getting on and working with the Wokingham Borough Council, making sure what we’re doing is suitable for people’s requests.
“We want people to know their community is full of organisations that want to make sure they are supported.
“Everyone has rallied round. We’ve even had three re-deployed Council staff come and work with us which has been really useful.”
Citizens Advice spent last week training their staff and volunteers, who have never worked in this way, to be able to work from home. They have mobilised their service and can now be logged in from anywhere.
Mr Morrison said: “They’ve all been raring to go, we have a morning briefing to catch up with each other and there is a video conference on throughout the day so we can still offer volunteers support.
“All calls are still recorded for quality and training purposes. We’ve helped more than 120 people since Thursday, March 19 on issues related to the Coronavirus.”
Citizens Advice is able to help with a range of issues from benefit and employment enquiries to food shortages. For those that have lost their jobs or think they might, they can help with information on entitlements.
“For some people, they can afford to buy food, so the Wokingham Foodbank is not appropriate, but because they are self-isolating they need someone to go out and get the food.
“We can help with that.”
The organisation asks people not to wait until they are at rock bottom before calling for help. If they are struggling with their mental health, the Samaritans have a helpline and the charity Mind have some helpful advice on their website, all details below.
As part of the joined-up approach, Emma Cantrell, founder of children’s charity First Days is currently running a food-distribution hub, based at St Paul’s Parish rooms.
From today, collections have moved to St Crispin’s Leisure Centre, London Road — which has a larger capacity for donations.
The community hub is taking donations of both fresh and non-perishable food, toiletries and other living essentials such as nappies.
She explained: “Demand and supply is changing day-to-day. We need people to donate when they’re on their way back from work or from the supermarket. Ideally, everything we get on the day is then delivered on the same day.”
A contactless system is in place where donations can be left in boxes outside the Parish Rooms on Reading Road.
These are then sorted through and distributed to anyone in the borough who is vulnerable, isolated or elderly, and to families in need.
Working together has been beneficial, Ms Cantrell said.
“Everyone has put their own agendas aside to work together to achieve this collective aim of helping as many people in the community as we can,” she explained.
“We’ve had many many conference calls, it’s been brilliant working closely with Citizens Advice, Link and the Wokingham Borough Council, to help people at such a unique time. Everyone is working really hard, it’s really heartwarming.”
For more information and the latest updates visit www.facebook.com/wokinghamcommunityhub/.
Volunteers step up
The Wokingham Volunteer Centre is currently focusing on helping people get their prescriptions from pharmacies.
Helena Badger, Volunteer Development Coordinator, said: “As the weeks go by, older people in particular will be needing their medication. We get requests through Citizens Advice for people who need their prescriptions collected. We then coordinate our volunteer drivers to do this.
“Volunteers have been trained to be very careful when delivering medication not to have any physical contact and to knock on the door then step at least two metres back.”
The organisation is amazed with the response they’ve had and are delighted that so many people want to help make a difference in the community. Because of the nature of the work at the moment, they do have enough volunteers, but will update Wokingham.Today when more roles become available.
On the phone
The Link Visiting Scheme has adapted their way of working to support the community in the safest way by converting to a telephone buddy system, where volunteers chat to their buddy over the phone, several times a week.
Marjie Walker, manager at Link said: “We are for anybody who needs social support at this time, not just the elderly, we don’t discriminate. These people can fill out a referral form on our website or ring Citizens Advice.”
If you need support, contact Citizens Advice on 0300 330 1189 (entering 0118 978 7258 if prompted) Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. Or visit citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk/coronavirus/ and complete the online form.
For more information on the Link scheme visit linkvisiting.org.