People Are Putting Notes Through Elderly Neighbours’ Doors Asking If They Need Anything
The last few weeks have been difficult, with people up and down the UK muddling through new and sometimes confusing circumstances in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Many of us are having to work from home, while others are still heading out to work in retail and various customer-facing environments, having to remain strong in the face of stress and panic.
More than ever, we need to make sure we are being kind to one another, and this is particularly true when it comes to ensuring our elderly and vulnerable neighbours are getting the help they need.
At this uncertain time, it’s important to remember those who already experience problems with loneliness and getting out will be finding matters even more challenging than usual.
They may be frightened, they may be unable to get to the corner shop for bread and milk, and they may well be unsure who exactly they can call upon for assistance.
Although the issue may seem huge, there is plenty we can be doing right now as individuals to help those in need – to make sure their fridges are stocked, their dogs walked and their names heard and acknowledged within communities.
As widespread concern and disruption continues to rage, a sense of fierce, protective community spirit has blossomed within various parts of the UK, with people banding together to ensure their neighbours’ lives remain as normal and as comfortable as possible.
A new trend, starting out as #viralkindness on social media, was kick-started by Falmouth-based creative advertising lecturer, Becky Wass.
Becky, 32, designed a shareable, printable postcard that allows people to offer help to their self-isolating neighbours.
The cards include spaces for names, addresses and phone numbers, as well as potential tasks the recipient might need a hand with, including ‘picking up shopping’, ‘urgent supplies’ or ‘a friendly phone call’.
Sharing her postcard on Facebook – along with a link to a printable PDF version – Becky wrote:
I’ve been feeling pretty helpless watching the news. Maybe you have too? I wanted to do something about it, so I’ve made a postcard that I’ll be posting to my older neighbours as this progresses (after washing my hands!).
If just one person feels less lonely or isolated when faced with this pandemic, then I’ll feel better about it (I hope!) Coronavirus is scary. Let’s make kindness go viral.
Many people were inspired by Becky’s idea, which has been shared and liked thousands of times. Furthermore, the sheer number of mutual aid groups that have since formed (in a matter of days) shows this neighbourly concern is far more than just a viral trend.
From Aberdeen to Bath, Cardiff to Hastings, residents have been posting cards through their neighbours’ letter boxes, ensuring they know they have friends nearby keeping an eye out for them.
Those over the age of 65 are at greater risk of developing severe symptoms should they become infected, and those showing even the mildest coughs have been advised to stay away from their elderly relatives.
Out of the 35 coronavirus-related fatalities in the UK so far, most have been individuals over the age of 60 who had underlying health conditions [this number has now reportedly risen to 55, as of March 16, according to BBC News].
Self-isolation for those over the age of 70 is said to be just days away, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock stating such individuals could be asked to remain indoors for periods of up to four months for their own safety.
Isolation is already a grave concern for the UK’s older population. According to Age UK, two million over-75s in England live alone, with over one million often going for over a month without speaking to another person.
As of March 14, 230 ‘mutual aid’ groups have flourished in the UK, with members offering support to those who are self-isolating due to infection or increased vulnerability. And, honestly, it makes you proud to be British.
Out of this number, 208 groups were established online, with volunteers coordinating their efforts through WhatsApp and Facebook groups. As well as organising online meetings, these mutual aid groups have distributed flyers outlining the sort of support on offer.
Coordinated nationally under the name ‘COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK’, these groups offer help with everyday yet vital tasks such shopping, dog walking and prescription collecting.
As well as much-needed practical support, the groups are also offering telephone calls for those who are self-isolating, allowing them to hear a human voice and feel a little less alone.
UNILAD spoke with Craig Brown from Loughborough, an events business professional who has managed to sign up almost 450 volunteers to his local mutual aid group in just 36 hours.
According to Craig, his business could be set to lose thousands of pounds because of the pandemic, as well as his university shutting. As a result, he his girlfriend Amy had some time on their hands and, not wanting to ‘sit back and watch vulnerable people’ in their town suffer, Amy and Craig decided to set up a mutual aid group, posting on Facebook and getting a team of like-minded people together.
I was feeling quite sorry for myself initially, because months of hard work put in to my events business won’t materialise financially, but after we spoke about things properly we both agreed that there are people that are going to be hit far worse than we are, many could die and lots of elderly and vulnerable people will be left isolated without the help they need.
We decided there’s no point feeling sorry for ourselves and that we needed to get out there and try to make a difference in any way we can.
Craig and his girlfriend are now in the process of printing and delivering these leaflets ‘through every letter box in Loughborough.’ They’re also meeting with the university to go through risk assessments, ensuring the job is done safely and hygienically, while Craig is also speaking to local business and food banks to coordinate parcels for the most vulnerable people in the community, as well as raising funds for the whole operation.
I started with a post offering to help one or two people and it has gone massive so quickly. I’m now just doing my best to coordinate all of the hundreds of people who are generously offering to help!
Craig kick-started the group just two days ago, raising half the budget he was after and so far receiving around 15 messages for help, including ‘dog walking requests, some shopping and others concerned about the loneliness of isolation’.
The group is currently waiting for their risk assessments to be examined thoroughly, with Craig stressing the importance of doing everything possible to prevent those they are trying to assist becoming infected.
According to Craig, funding will be the biggest obstacle, though he is confident his community will pull together. If health and safety standards are maintained, Craig believes his venture will operational ‘within the next 24 hours’. As he said: ‘It’s best for us to be taking the extra time to get this right now, because in a matter of weeks we expect the demand for help to be much much larger.’
According to Craig, the response from older people has so far been ‘overwhelmingly positive’:
Elderly people feel cared for and the people who don’t need help yet feel extremely reassured that there is help available to them if and when they need it.
Elderly people are sometimes reluctant to ask for help as they feel they a being a burden. Our willingness and eagerness to help them I believe makes them feel more comfortable getting the help they need.
UNILAD also spoke with Peter Jones, a charity worker from Cheadle who has been buying groceries for his elderly neighbours:
I am part of a WhatsApp group whereby if people are aware of any people self-isolating then they can basically alert us if there hasn’t been contact for a while, or if they notify us they are in need (there is a line and Facebook group they can contact).
The most effective is for elderly people – the problem though is that they are the ones without phones and Facebook etc! It’s certainly tricky.
With such communication challenges, Peter and his volunteer group have been finding out about isolated people through ‘word of mouth’, with people monitoring their neighbours to check they’re okay.
Peter, quite rightly, added:
I think we all need to help people who need it.
Of course, we all need to be shopping sensitively and sensibly – and with others in mind – to ensure there are enough groceries to go round.
The temptation to stock up on loo roll and pasta may be tempting, but stripping the shelves bare is no way to go about things and will make things even trickier for older people.
Lucy Hutchinson, who runs Essex-based home help service Any Little Thing told UNILAD:
I think that the notes being put through neighbours letterboxes is a kind idea, but ultimately if shop shelves are bare, anyone is going to struggle to obtain any form of shopping list.
This idea is enforcing a sense of community, and I feel it is great that everyone pulls together, even in the trickiest of situations, however this kindness should be promoted at all times, not only in a crisis. This is why we love what we do so much.
Lucy is committed to making sure customers can spend quality time with their loved ones, while also looking out for those without family or friends nearby. Some shops, for example, have started opening early, allowing elderly people priority – something which Lucy would like to see as a Home Help Business, so shopping can be done on someone’s behalf.
According to statistics released in 2019 by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), approximately 18% of the total UK population is 65 years old or over, having risen from just 10.8% in 1950.
These numbers and figures add up to so much more than a government statistic. They represent mums and dads, nanas and grandpas, and people who once felt young and indestructible themselves.
With the pandemic far from over, those who have health and youth on their side need to step up and help our most vulnerable citizens through the rough times ahead, one day – and one shopping bag – at a time.
You can find your local COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK group here.
It’s okay to not panic. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our coronavirus campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization on coronavirus, click here.