As the we began to come to terms with the Covid-19 outbreak, socially isolating and locakdown Mutual Aid groups began to form across the country, many via social media sites such as Facebook.
One such group was Covid-19 Southport Support Group, which was founded by Gillo Ballybay. Here Gillo outlines the experiene of the group.
“I set up the ‘Covid-19 Southport & Formby Facebook Support Group’ back in March because I saw that people were wanting to help each other and it was clear that some sort of lockdown was coming. I wondered how could Southport respond to the corona virus pandemic? The answer was the same as in almost any crisis, by turning to the community.
“I set up the Facebook page and immediately was inundated with offers of help, it was overwhelming. Within days we gained over 1,000 new members and I had a core of volunteer helpers to support me in running the page and expanding what we could do. The Formby membership grew quickly and they split off to create a sister group, so we became the ‘Covid-19 Southport Support Group (Corona virus 2020)’
“I’m an online journalist and I know that social media and technology is a boon in times like this, but some elderly or vulnerable people don’t have access to the internet. Although we set up virtually on Facebook, the plan was to connect with people in their neighbourhoods, in their homes. We created street-based groups across as much of Southport as we could. Our group members leaflet where they live, so that the response is very local. We use technology as well, setting up WhatsApp mobile groups to coordinate.
“We now have a whole team of volunteer members, some helping with the Facebook group and others co-ordinating the street based support groups.
“Our group was inspired by the mutual aid networks which sprang up across the country as lockdown began. Our unique way of working means we have very few ‘volunteers’ in the traditional sense; every person who offers and gives help via the page is a volunteer, and everyone who has set up and runs a street based WhatsApp group is a volunteer.
” In fact, none of us know each other, I have never met any of the people I work alongside, virtually, and there have been no formal volunteer interviews. People offer to help and we have set up structures to direct them how best to do that. We have zone leaders, zone champions and deputies whose role is to organise volunteer ‘offers’ into active street-based groups across Southport. We are all volunteers.
“We have many success stories in our group – people posting an appeal for something; like shopping to be picked up, or a prescription, or asking where can they get a thermometer or nappies – and strangers, volunteers, immediately respond with practical offers of help.
“We have sons, daughters, grandchildren who live 100s of miles away, some abroad, and they’ve posted in the group and asked for people to check in on their parents or grandparents, and instantly got positive responses.
“One volunteer, Katie Langley and her children Megan and James, delivered 200 leaflets around their home in High Park, Southport. They organised a Stay At Home Street Party on May 8th for VE Day 75th anniversary, asking people to decorate their houses in red, white and blue and have a picnic in their own front gardens. They did this via the WhatsApp group set up for their street, inviting neighbours to take part.
“Like our other street groups they also keep an eye on those who are shielding and offer help when needed. Street groups run themselves, neighbour helping neighbour. We now see that these groups will exist long after lockdown has been lifted. New friendships and communities have been formed.
“As lockdown is eased we are still here, still helping those that need help, those that are shielding, ourselves and our neighbours. Our street groups are now collecting for local foodbanks and we intend to keep doing what we are doing for as long as we are needed.
I’d like to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to all of our volunteers for the many, many hours you have selflessly given. You have helped create something special in our community.
“To find out more, join our FB group where volunteers are still organising WhatsApp groups and people needing help can post a request and get positive responses and practical help: https://www.facebook.com/groups/200618958018826/”