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Meet the people across the UK helping their communities in a time of need

The inspiring stories of the people pulling together to support their neighbours

Tuesday 26 May 2020 10:45 BST

Over the last few months, life has changed inexplicably. And while most of us are encountering the many difficulties that accompany a global pandemic, the Covid-19 crisis has thrown the good deeds of British public into sharp relief.

As the UK works together to stay home, the power of kindness, generosity and goodwill have proved triumphant over the last few months: with thousands offering help and resource to the vulnerable, home-cooked food to workers on the frontline and much-needed emotional support systems to the isolated. Here, we talk to five inspirational people making a difference…

Phil Jones: the Chester-based chef cooking and delivering hundreds of meals each week

After being furloughed from his job as a chef, Chester-based Phil Jones (pictured above) decided to take the opportunity to practise his skills in the kitchen, watching YouTube videos to keep up with the younger colleagues who sometimes consider him old-fashioned.

It wasn’t long before Phil realised he had a lot of food, so he decided to get in touch with some of his vulnerable neighbours. Soon, word spread and Phil heard about more and more people in need. He posted on some local groups, and things began to snowball. Now, the 40-year-old volunteer is waking up around 6:30 each morning to prepare, cook and deliver around 40 meals per day to local residents and NHS staff at the nearby hospital, the Countess of Chester. Sometimes, he doesn’t stop until 11 o’clock at night.

“It’s strange really, because I get up and I step into the kitchen and just the thought of making people happy is just a massive buzz and it outweighs the tiredness,” he notes. “For someone to come along and bring some home-cooked food, it’s like winning the lottery for them – that’s what a couple of them have said.”

Prav​ashini Ramsamy: the recent mum helping dozens of local families

“I was completely devastated by the news,” says Pravashini Ramsamy on hearing that elderly and vulnerable people, as well as key workers, were struggling to access groceries.

So the mother of three, who hadn’t yet returned to work as a training manager after maternity leave, set up the local community group Finchley COVID 19 on Facebook.

Of the group’s 218 members, there are around 70 local volunteers who have helped 60 isolating individuals and families, delivering shopping, home-cooked meals and running essential errands.

Living in East Finchley with her fiancé and children, Pravashini, 40, coordinates the volunteers and takes referrals from Barnet and Brent councils to help people at risk.

They also serve local key workers. With the help of the local Indian restaurant Majjo’s, they deliver lunch to the Whittington Hospital’s midwife team every Tuesday, and upwards of 70 cooked meals to the police station in Wood Green on a Wednesday.

“Our volunteers don’t know these families and go to them, and the families don’t know our volunteers and trust them, and that is so powerful. It’s almost like a salary – it’s the reward.”

Frank Charles: the inspirational Londoner running a foodbank from home

Alongside a yearly appeal to help provide ill children with Christmas presents, Frank Charles also runs Feed the Streetz, a community project providing breakfast to rough sleepers. And since the pandemic has hit, the East Londoner has transformed his own home into a foodbank of sorts.

Delivering PPE, food and little luxuries to the staff at Whipps Cross Hospital – where all three of his sons were born – Frank is responding to calls for aid to vulnerable families, GOSH, and care homes across East London. “I’d do it anyway, it’s in my DNA.”

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Ian Alcorn: the Nottingham-based dad-of-four who has helped raise £160,000 through garden campouts

Nottingham-based bathroom fitter and dad-of-two Ian Alcorn had two goals: he wanted to support the NHS and to keep his children occupied. And so the Great British Campout was born, a JustGiving page that encouraged people to camp out in their back garden and to donate to £2 to NHS Charities together. He’d never have thought that just several weeks later, the initiative would have raised £160,000 from participants across the globe.

He now plans to host campouts worldwide over the May bank holiday weekends, in a bid to raise the total funds to half-a-million-pounds to support NHS workers on the front line of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The support has poured in and Ian has been humbled by all the praise and thanks from NHS workers. “But I’m not the one wearing a cape – it’s just an idea come good. They are the ones I want to thank and that’s the whole reason this came about.”

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Michelle Rosewell: the Bexleyheath resident taking hundreds of calls from the area's most vulnerable

It was mid-March when mother-of-four Michelle Rosewell asked her Facebook contacts if they knew any local organisations who needed help. The Bexleyheath resident wanted to get involved, but wasn’t sure how.

She then met Fiona Thompson on the Nextdoor website. And they became two of Isolation Help Bexley’s founding members, along with Dave Paul, Eugene Petzer, Liz Millmore and Colin Harrison.

Michelle recounts a conversation with a local resident who had neither the cash nor means to get the essentials she needed. A box was packed for her and when she opened it she saw some flowers. “Her and her mum burst out crying, phoned me back and said ‘it’s made our day.’

“It’s definitely brought people together, and I think things will change,” suggests Michelle. “They’ve changed already.”

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