The Thanet volunteers who cared for our community amid Covid and are ready to step up again

Organisers Steve Migan (left) and Cameron Taylor

Volunteers who made sure those shielding during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic were kept supplied with food and medication are at the ready should a second wave hit this winter.

People across the isle banded together under the umbrella of the Thanet Coronavirus Assistance facebook group and the Lifeboat Project in Westgate run by Changing Minds Kent CIC.

Volunteers took part in making up and delivering food parcels, collecting medicines, talking on the phone with people who were isolated and worried, taking people to the shops and keeping the wheels turning through admin, IT and data work.

Now the schemes are at the ready in case they need to go into full gear once more after winding down – but not closing entirely – during the summer when restrictions had been eased.

We met some of the Thanet folk who donated their time to making sure our community was cared for.

Cameron Taylor, 23, from Birchington, set up the Thanet Coronavirus Assistance group.

He said: “Initially it was just a group for people to ask for help but very quickly we merged with the Lifeboat Project at Changing Minds Kent as we realised there was an opportunity to do a bit more. We had volunteers working with the Lifeboat Project doing food parcels, picking up shopping and prescriptions and it took off from there. At the peak of lockdown our group has 100 active volunteers and there were at least 20-30 delivery requests per week. We were a place for people to come too, sometimes just because they needed to talk on facebook or the phone. We also would point people to other volunteer groups and it became a real whole community effort reaching out to those who were not able to get what they needed.

“If we have another lockdown everything is in place and ready to go again. Or if we get to a point where it all drops off then we will be in the background but will keep the community links going.”

Steve Migan, 31, from Cliftonville, set up the Lifeboat Project as part of his role with Changing Minds Kent, which already provided social inclusion and skills development opportunities for individuals living in Thanet from “The Lodge” based in Westgate-on-sea.

Steve said: “When lockdown happened we closed The Lodge but the directors wanted to know how we could still help. We came up with the Lifeboat Project, we went out to people to provide support, food, toiletries, talking on the phone. The town council got involved. We picked up food from FareShare and there were donations from the community. I was introduced to Cameron and the assistance group which then helped with volunteers. We put together food parcels and did distribution across Thanet. We are still doing some now after six months.

“Fundraising was ringfenced, so the project funds itself. People can come to us and we will help them out. We often also signpost them to Sharon Goodyer and Our Kitchen where independence is being encouraged as some people had become reliant on the food parcels and we don’t want that to continue, although if another lockdown comes we are ready.”

Changing Minds Kent has now reopened activities at The Lodge.

Sarah Humphrey, 55, from Westgate, is a Changing Minds Kent client and a volunteer.

She said: “I was on the fruit and veg stall outside for the Lifeboat Project offering things to the public. I just thought it was a way of helping other people in need and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was also good to meet people and lots of them made donations. It was also good for me as I live on my own so I was doing a service and felt good about it which really helped my mental health.”

Ray and Christina Taylor, retired, from Westgate, where part of the army of volunteers.

Ray said: “We became community volunteers with the town council and went out, did shopping and picked up meds for people who were shielding. We helped Changing Minds with their food parcels and picked up stuff from the government packages if people didn’t want them and took them to the Lifeboat Project. We also helped the town council with chatting to people who were worried about things.”

Lauren Oates (left) and Helena Hulford

Mum-of-three Lauren Oates, 41, from Broadstairs, started helping people early on in the pandemic, going into action before the lockdown was announced.

She said: “I posted a status to say I was DBS checked and if people wanted to isolate I was happy to help get things for them. That had a huge response and then someone from The Gap contacted me and I said I was happy to cover Broadstairs and help with bits and pieces, I did some flyers and put them in surgeries and shops to offer help to those in the community who may not have seen what was online. I was getting 45-50 phone calls a day that required action for food parcels because there were no supermarket deliveries available or people needing medication. I worked alongside the Lifeboat Project although it was me in my bedroom take ‘a million’ calls. It was extremely busy but so rewarding. It is quieter now but if it does come back again hopefully we have all the logistics in place to make the effort more streamlined.

Mum-of-three Helena Hulford, 31, from Margate, dealt with admin and data collection for the Lifeoat Project.

She said: “I was the quiet one doing all the daa about volunteers and who needed help. I did the forms and all the privacy bits. It is all ready to go again if needed.”

Stuart Saunders, 44, from Minster, delivered food parcels for the Lifeboat Project and currently does the same service for the Margate Independent Food Bank.

He said: “I started at the beginning of April because I was furloughed, and still am. I am doing it now for the Independent food bank and also did deliveries for Our Kitchen.

“It gave me something to do as doing nothing for all that time would not have been good. I was out and about meeting different people and was able to help them. It was good as I live on my own and at the start we weren’t allowed to go and see family and friends.

“As well as delivering food parcels I did welfare checks, making sure people were ok, delivered clothes and baby essentials, did pick ups and generally whatever was needed.”

Zoe Montellano, 23, from Ramsgate, was a student nurse when the lockdown came in but became sick.

She said: “After I was better, when I did two weeks isolation, I did lots of volunteer work all over Thanet. But then my parents got sick and my dad ended up in ITU so I wasn’t working.

“I became a qualified nurse in April and my dad came out (of hospital) in May. I tried to do my bit delivering packages for the Lifeboat Project and I also started a Positive Covid Recovery group that helped people. Most of my volunteering was March and April. In June, when my dad was well enough, I went back to work and am in A&E at QEQM Hospital.”

Mike Davies, 36, from Cliftonville, is a web developer. He created the Thanet Coronavirus Assistance website.

He said: “It was before the lockdown, in early March, and I was looking for ways to help.I saw local groups springing up and that the same questions about where to get food and medicine. I bought the Thanet Coronavirus Assistance domain name and put together a simple directory with things like pharmacists and greengrocers. That facebook group had the largest number of members so I contacted Cameron and then made a Whats App for the group. From that some awesome people helped build up the website. It was a really scary time for people.”

Maxina Vorpe, 73, from Westgate helped the Lifeboat Project with its fresh food stall.

She said: “I was going there on a Thursday to help with the food bank. It is just at the end of my road and I saw them and thought I would like to help. It was a good project and they had people coming by bus to pick up food bags. It gave me something to do for the community and I could also have a chat and pass the time of day with people there.”

Staying safe

Cases are once more rising and the country is split into three tier levels, with Kent on ‘medium’ alert which is the lowest level. For our county restrictions remain as they were before the tier announcement. This means the main rules are meeting in groups of no more than six, wearing face coverings in mandatory areas such as supermarkets and a 10pm closure on bars and restaurants.

Andrew Scott-Clark, KCC Director of Public Health, said: “There are variations in current rates across the county and we are seeing a rise in cases locally and nationally so it is really important that residents play their part to help protect themselves and others, particularly the most vulnerable members of the community who are most at risk from severe symptoms, and continue to follow the national guidelines.

“There are a range of factors which could affect the infection rate of the virus in a particular area. These could include the age and density of the population, number of hospitals and care homes, the levels of testing both in the community and hospital plus the numbers of commuters travelling to and from London.

“We are continuing to work with our partners across Kent, including Public Health England local health protection teams and the NHS, to monitor where cases are occurring and whether there are larger widespread community outbreaks.

“There is more testing available across the county and anyone experiencing Covid symptoms should self-isolate immediately and book a test. It is vital that the wider community in Kent continues to play its part and if you are contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service, then you should follow the guidance given to self-isolate.

“We also appeal to people to remember social distancing, regular handwashing and wearing a mask in public places to help keep the number of cases as low as possible. You can now also download the NHS Test and Trace app.”

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  1. I am sure that the volunteers mean well and have hearts of gold. However I think they are being taken for fools across the whole volunteers sector, it has become so big now that volunteers are seen as a soft touch. This was highlighted this week by an advertisement that appeared in a national newspaper for a “FOODBANK diversity director” on a salary of £62,000 per year. (unbelievable but true)
    Also if there were less volunteers there would be more real jobs for those who need them. A lot of volunteers are retired on good pensions so they can afford to work for nothing. Whilst others in the community are desperate to find work and struggling to keep their mental well being after suddenly being made redundant due to the corona virus.

  2. The situation is more serious now. The resources that were available are not there again. More people are more exhausted, depressed and vulnerable. More people are cynical about staying in , maintaining distance or wearing masks. Lots of people are quietly struggling and few have much left to give. I believe transport of food would be done best by a tdc driver and a van leaving the foodbanks and our food Club free to source food and pack bags. Free food will be limited too

  3. Steve and the lifeboat have been amazing! Being able to signpost people for extra support and food parcels when isolating during lockdown was made so easy with the collaboration between Life Boat and Cam at coronavirus assistance it created a great sense of community wellbeing too and made our ramsgate members feel less alone. Thankyou so much!!

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