St Albans residents join volunteer army helping vulnerable people across county during pandemic

Stephen Ville of the St Albans-based Bread Roll Company.

Stephen Ville of the St Albans-based Bread Roll Company. - Credit: Archant

Volunteers from across the district have been helping to keep the county’s most at risk residents safe in their homes as well as providing vital support and advice for other families and individuals.

Volunteers Katie Waite and Tom Maine.

Volunteers Katie Waite and Tom Maine. - Credit: Archant

Since the start of April around 14,000 food parcels and 500 prescriptions have been delivered to ‘shielded’ individuals asked by the government to stay at home because they would be most at risk of becoming seriously ill should they contract coronavirus. A further 1700 food parcels have been supplied to district councils, foodbanks and other local charities.

A community hub has been set up where both fresh and non-perishable food, toiletries and cleaning products are packed by staff and volunteers and delivered to hundreds of people and some voluntary organisations across the county every day. Staff and suppliers have on occasion worked through the night and weekends to make sure that those people most in need have the essential items to keep them healthy at home.

Help has also been at hand for residents who need it, but who do not fall into the ‘shielded’ category. This includes those with underlying medical conditions, pregnant women, people experiencing financial difficulties, and anyone who has lost their usual network or friends and family because of the impact of coronavirus.

HertsHelp, a local network of organisations, offering support and guidance for those who need it, has stepped up its support. The telephone support service is now available from 8am – 8pm seven days a week rather than its usual five day a week service. Call volumes are up 400% compared to the same time last year, with more than 12,000 individual calls in April alone. People calling in have been offered food parcels, energy vouchers, help to buy essential white goods and clothing and signposted to other services that can provide financial advice, housing support and other important information.

Alongside the incredible hard work of councils, the military, businesses, voluntary and community organisations, a 10,000 strong band of volunteers has come forward to lend a hand at this difficult time. Coordinated by #TeamHerts volunteering, many of them are now carrying out a range of important tasks in their communities. This includes things like helping with shopping, picking up prescriptions, telephone befriending, as well as picking and packing food parcels.

Stephen Ville, the former managing director at the Bread Roll Company in St Albans, said: “I was listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 and heard about the work that Hertfordshire County Council was doing to support those in need, food banks and other local charities. I knew that there were always ‘extras’ left over which were more than staff could take home. I contacted the council and was able to arrange a daily collection at the bakery. I know the team are delighted to be able to help those most in need at the current time.”

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Katie Waite and Tom Maine, who live in St Albans, are volunteering to pick and pack food parcels in Welwyn Garden City.

Katie, who usually volunteers as a Guide leader, said: “We have both been furloughed from our jobs, but we wanted to help and do something to get out of the house. We both have family who live alone, and we’d want to feel that they’d be supported at this difficult time, so doing this seemed a perfect fit for us.

“All the volunteers we’re working with are absolutely lovely, there is a nice team atmosphere and it’s great to meet new people. What we are doing is so different to our usual day jobs – but it is so rewarding to be part something like this.

“We know that the response across Hertfordshire has been amazing and we want people to know that support is here, for those who need it.”

County council leader Cllr David Williams said: “I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who is working so hard to help us look after those people who need our help the most at this very difficult time. The response in Hertfordshire has been phenomenal, and I could not be prouder of the way everyone has stepped up to help us tackle coronavirus.

“There are tricky times ahead, but I would call on everyone to keep up the good work – we will get through this.”