“When I went to do my first shift, I had tears in my eyes,” says Polly McAndrew, a volunteer with the H&F Community Aid Network.
Polly is one of more than 2,000 residents who came forward after Hammersmith & Fulham Council put out a call for community volunteers in March – a week before the Prime Minister announced the lockdown.
Within days H&F CAN had its own seven-day call centre, staffed by council workers working agilely from home, and a volunteer armada of residents to help those in need of urgent food or those feeling lonely or isolated.
The centre also took over handling calls and emails from some of the borough’s 8,000 Shielded residents – those instructed by the NHS to self-isolate for 12 weeks.
“I got involved as I was keen to do something to help during this crisis. As a borough resident for over 30 years I wanted to help give back to my community which I have lived in so happily with my family,” said Polly who has helped pack and deliver food packages to some of the borough’s most in-need residents.
A school governor and mother-of-three grown-up children, Polly said she felt fortunate compared to many and that motivated her to help.
“I was impressed with the speed and efficiency with which the council had organised everything,” said Polly. “When I went to do my first shift I was really moved and had tears in my eyes. It felt as if the community had really come together to help the most in need.”
Residents step up
Hundreds of resident volunteers have now been called up to take on a variety of essential jobs, from personal shopping for those unable to leave home, delivering PPE to frontline staff, volunteering at the H&F Foodbank, or packing and delivering food parcels for Shielded.
Once H&F CAN was established and highlighted the need, demand at the H&F Foodbank soared. The operation was moved to its current temporary base at Olympia where manager Daphine Aikens’ team – bolstered by CAN volunteers – is handling 1,000 food parcels a week, rather than the usual 160.
“I volunteered because I am fit and healthy and wanted to help others less able, rather than sit at home,” said Carolyn Green, another resident who’s given up their time to help.
Carolyn spent her career working in the voluntary sector and the past two decades working in Hammersmith and got involved as a way of giving back to the community she loves.
“I have been involved twice filling and delivering food parcels and today delivering PPE. I have been so impressed with the way the council has organised it so efficiently, and there were staff in the Town Hall, working hard, even on Easter Saturday,” she added.
The coronavirus pandemic forced H&F Council to take fast and radical action to safeguard the wellbeing of residents.
The first step was to create a dedicated response team pooling skilled workers from across the organisation to set up a virtual call centre from their homes.
Driving this action is a diverse and willing workforce more than happy to go the extra mile and give up their time to put residents first.
Cllr Sue Fennimore, Deputy Leader of H&F Council said: “It has been humbling to see the way residents and the council have worked together to support those most in need. Within days of the council launching H&F CAN, we were inundated with volunteers wanting to help and had set up our urgent call centre – while massively upscaling the H&F Foodbank.
“Through the voluntary redeployment of over 100 H&F staff, the actions of those heroic volunteers, and the support of the charity, third sector and local mutual aid groups, we have striven to ensure that no one in our borough should be left alone during this global pandemic.”
The contact centre went live on 30 March. It has since dealt with 5,000 telephone calls and over 1,000 emails.
Requests have varied from those looking for help with getting food, to just wanting to talk because they’re lonely. Importantly, the contact centre acts as a triage for enquiries, filtering residents through to the appropriate service and working closely with the various mutual aid groups which have also been formed in response to the crisis.
The operation has pulled in staff from right across the organisation, many who have never worked together before, but are all united in the aim of helping residents.
Contact H&F CAN
Do you need urgent support with food, loneliness or isolation? Or are you worried about a friend, neighbour or relative?
H&F CAN is here to help...
Volunteer to work with the CAN using the form at the bottom of this page.
Want to read more news stories like this? Subscribe to our weekly e-news bulletin.