By Christine Durrant, Community Builder for Preston, Paignton
Christine is a Community Builder, and has been part of the Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline emergency response team.
My life as a community builder has always been flexible and varied. Suddenly COVID-19 hit and life seemed to turn upside down.
Fortunately for me I have no underlying health problems so am not in a high-risk category. In the early weeks this was crazy busy. We would get emails from the office helpline staff all through the day asking us to go to different pharmacies to collect prescriptions, to food banks to collect food parcels and to shops to do basic shopping and then deliver these things to those who are self-isolating.
There were queues everywhere. It would be an hour waiting outside one pharmacy and another hour at the next. We sometimes visit five different pharmacies or the same pharmacy three times. Sometimes we would get in and find that the prescription was not there yet, other times they could only give us half the items. These were stressful occasions as we knew that people were relying on us to bring their medication.
I tried to avoid the bigger supermarkets where the shelves were empty and the queues were long. Often the smaller local shops could provide everything that was needed. Sometimes I was able to connect people with our local greengrocer who would take their order and deliver it, a real blessing when it was impossible to get an online delivery from the bigger supermarkets.
I have always enjoyed living in my patch and now more than ever I am glad that is the case. When the decision was made to close the public toilets, it did not adversely affect me. I can pop home for a comfort break and for my lunch. For those who live outside the Bay or work in Torquay while living in Paignton or Brixham it was not so easy.
Every day there were seemingly endless emails sending us in all directions, morning, noon and night. I will admit that my heart still sinks when I look for the last time of an evening and find more deliveries needing to be done.
Now nearly two months on, things are easing. It takes time to check the volunteers’ references and match them with people needing support but more and more people are being connected. Wherever possible we are matching volunteers with people who live nearby which can only make neighbourhoods stronger.
Thankfully there are fewer emergency pick-ups to do now. This frees me to help in other capacities. I am matching volunteers to people in isolation, catching up on emails and connecting with people in my patch, checking how they are and trying to help them stay connected with each other.
I look forward to the day when we can all meet in person again. My concern is that for some people the lock down will have compromised their general fitness and mobility – walking around a flat is not the same as walking to the shops. Another problem will be the very real fear that many people have of catching COVID-19 even after we are allowed more freedom. Having spent the last five years helping people to get out and socialise we may struggle to help them overcome that fear to be able to come out of this necessary hiding.
Knowing that we were in this for the long haul I try to use my days off wisely. Recognising the importance of keeping myself well, both mentally and physically, I make sure that I take time to refresh and rebalance.
When we consider those who live in crowded cities, in flats without gardens, or streets without green trees we recognise just how blessed we are to live in this beautiful part of the world. We can walk to the beach or to the woods. The fact we have been allowed to exercise outside only once a day has encouraged me to exercise more often than I used to. No matter how long or tiring my work day has been I am desperate to get out and enjoy this beautiful spring weather.
I am seeing new relationships being formed as neighbours gather together on Thursday nights to cheer all those key workers who keep going for us all. Friendships form as people volunteer to help their neighbours. Strangers are greeting each other as they keep what I like to call ‘a friendly distance’. Let’s keep looking for the positive outcomes and may our community be a stronger one at the end of this crisis.