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Coronavirus crisis: Volunteer army mobilises to protect and provide for community in Stansted

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An extraordinary workforce of volunteers is evolving in Stansted to protect and provide for the community in the coming weeks and months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Spearheaded by Stansted Surgery to help not only patients but anyone in the village and surrounding areas in need, a 110-strong army of helpers has deployed to tackle the effects of the crisis head on.

Splinter groups of fundraisers and volunteers have been conceived in the past 10 days to ensure those on the front line are provided for as well as people isolated at home and in need of essential supplies.

Annie, 10, and Alice, 6, help with leaflet deliveries (33642487)
Annie, 10, and Alice, 6, help with leaflet deliveries (33642487)

Some 6,000 leaflets, designed free of charge by a villager, were delivered over the Easter weekend. They have details of how people can seek help and support with the key message ‘Please do not struggle in silence – the wider community is here to help’.

Stansted Surgery practice manager Teresa Buglass said that she felt overwhelmed and humbled by the community’s response.

“It’s hard to describe how I feel. You don’t know what’s going to happen when you ask people for help, but there's nothing people won’t do and it’s very encouraging... makes us feel very well supported and very grateful. It’s quite humbling,” she told the Indie.

Supplies for the food bank (33478471)
Supplies for the food bank (33478471)

“It was on March 14 we first put out a call for volunteers and people responded immediately. Within two days we were up and running and over the past week it's escalated so that there’s now a group set up to fundraise for the food bank, while another is sewing scrubs for NHS staff.

"The Friends of Stansted Surgery has launched a fundraising page and so far have raised £2,240, which is brilliant. It's paid for the printing of the leaflets that went out over the weekend and they'll use it to fund supplies for the food bank.”

The surgery is the central point from where people can access volunteer help. By emailing stansted.surgery@nhs.net or phoning 01279 813200 or 01279 818051 or 01279 818057 callers will be put in touch with the right volunteer for their needs – including collecting food or prescriptions, dog walking or just being at the end of a phone for a chat.

Philippa Bennett, who co-founded Friends of Stansted Surgery to support the practice with the delivery of the additional services, said they felt the need to help co-ordinate the volunteer response so that the surgery was not overwhelmed.

Rosie Paterson, 10, helped deliver the leaflets (33478660)
Rosie Paterson, 10, helped deliver the leaflets (33478660)

"When all these little groups started evolving we realised it was going to need a bit more organising and that we were going to have to do some fund-raising," she said.

"The women sewing the scrubs had already bought some fabric but were getting lots of requests, and we were also going to have to buy for the food bank depot, so we started fundraising to supplement that and to make it more of an official group."

Another co-founder, who wished to remain anonymous, said the surgery had been quick to respond.

"They recognised there was going to be a call for services over and above what they're normally called upon to do, supporting not just vulnerable patients but people who wouldn't typically need their help.

"There are also a lot of vulnerable people who don't have social media, so we organised the leaflets with the surgery and set up a gofundme.com page a few days ago with a target of £5,000." As of 12.30pm on Friday (April 17) the total raised is £2,777.

"The surgery has given incredible steer and guidance and ended up with over 100 volunteers, each with their own strengths, and the service is evolving with incredible talents and skill sets.

"Groups of people are coming together to help and it's building a great community spirit. This is the easiest campaign launched as so many people want to help out – the hardest part is making sure everybody has a job to do!

She added: "The impact of this is going to be felt for some time so we're fundraising as much as we can to help out later. But the most important message is that if people need any help, the surgery will signpost them to where help can be found."

Click here to donate to the Friends of Stansted Surgery online appeal.

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