Love thy neighbour
As lockdown loomed, Elim’s Crewkerne Community Church predicted locals would need help
1,380 shopping trips and 1,024 hot meals later, their 'Be A Good Neighbour' scheme has become an essential support system for vulnerable people.
During the last live service on 17 March 2020 at Crewkerne Community Church in Somerset, pastor Steve Gray said: "with lockdown inevitable, we need to support our community."
So the church wrote ‘name, address, telephone number’ on a piece of paper, and that’s how their ‘Be A Good Neighbour’ scheme started.
Paul Ward, who attends the church and heads up the project, looks back on BAGN’s remarkable journey over the past six months.
"We began by sending out 1,500 flyers asking if anyone over 70 needed help with shopping or prescription collections 'now we were in lockdown', or would appreciate a weekly phone call. The idea was that because people were suddenly not going out, and some didn’t have family nearby, we could support them.
"We were somewhat surprised to find that 284 people from Crewkerne and the surrounding villages registered."
The team quickly got organised, with an admin squad of six and an office operating seven days a week; and so the calls, shopping trips, and prescription pick-ups began.
Then Waitrose loaned a hand, promising that BAGN volunteers would not have to queue to shop. But, as the volunteers made their deliveries, they became aware that some people weren’t eating hot meals.
"We came across one lady who was living on breakfast cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We thought, ‘Hang on, we can do something about this'. We’ve got a purpose-built commercial kitchen at church, so we decided to provide home-cooked meals on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
"We do 30-35 meals both days and we’ve made 1,024 fresh meals since we started.
"For those in particular need, BAGN now also supplies frozen meals, which are cooked on the days when fresh meals are not being delivered."
With an ever-increasing awareness of the need in the community, BAGN has gone one step further and started to organise food parcels too.
"Lidl has a basket where people can donate a couple of extra items they’ve bought, and they have given us permission to empty it every week.
"We use this to make up parcels of non-perishable goods such as breakfast cereals, pasta sauces, soups, and long-life milk for people who are struggling financially.
"We’ve also offered that facility to schools for vulnerable families two days a week. They can come in and help themselves to anything they need."
"Covid-19 might have been the catalyst behind BAGN, but it’s not just about coronavirus.
"We’ve realised there is a significant ongoing need in our community. Our oldest client is 97 and she told us, 'All of my family have gone. I don’t know how I coped before; Covid has highlighted that I need help.'
"She said 'lockdown is ten times worse than the war. Then, people had each other. Now, in lockdown, many don’t'.
As pensioners started to venture out again after shielding, BAGN launched a buddy scheme where volunteers accompanied people on their first visit to the shop to reduce the stress of these initial trips out.
And so great is the need in the community that some people being assisted by BAGN have asked to remain on its register, even after lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Paul and his team have been thrilled at the support they have received from the council, the Mayor volunteers on the admin team, and the police have helped distribute meals.
But they are keen to recruit more volunteers and are applying for funding to cover the £140 daily cost of cooking meals. They are also looking to obtain official charity status.
Looking ahead, Paul fears the current situation will worsen during winter, especially as people struggle to differentiate the symptoms of a normal cold from those of Covid-19. "This could put pressure on BAGN’s small team of volunteers as they work to meet escalating needs."
But he and the team welcome the opportunity to help vulnerable local families and have the vision to expand their scheme.
"Ultimately, we want to be an open centre to act as a signpost for people who may have financial or mental health issues, and for Be A Good Neighbour to be an absolute centre for the community.
"People often say, 'We can’t believe you’re still doing this. Is it going to stop once Covid gets sorted?' The answer is no, we are definitely going to continue. The virus was the main reason we started, but people aren’t just vulnerable only because of Covid.
"We are a community church, so we need to be out in our community. When Covid eventually disappears, we will remain as a good neighbour."
Be A Good Neighbour numbers:
284 people registered to receive shopping, prescriptions and phone calls
1380 shopping trips done for individual clients from March 22 to August 31
968 prescriptions collected
1024 fresh hot meals made, plus frozen meals prepared
97 the age of BAGN’s oldest client
250 the number of home-cooked meals BAGN soon expect to make each week
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