Isolation Help Bexley volunteer
Michelle, one of the group’s founders, at one of its logistics hubs

More than 700 Bexley residents have mobilised to help hundreds of the borough’s most vulnerable residents during the coronavirus emergency – just a month after the group formed on social media.

Isolation Help Bexley began after seven strangers began discussing how they could help older and more vulnerable people who have been told to stay at home during the pandemic.

Using a combination of IT expertise and old-fashioned leaflet deliveries, the group’s co-ordinators Fiona Thompson and Dave Paul set out to make sure that, in their words, “nobody self-isolating in Bexley feels isolated”.

Now 715 volunteers have helped 520 residents in need across the borough, and delivered leaflets to almost two thirds of Bexley’s 106,000 homes. Tasks have included delivering toilet rolls, collecting urgent medication or calling people who are self-isolating for a chat.

The network is built around dispatch system built by volunteers Ash Bennett and Eugene Petzer. The program provides details of all volunteers and the people who have asked the group for help. This means the team can see which volunteer is closest to which person in need – and get them assistance straight away.

Isolation Hub Bexley volunteer Grace
Nine-year-old Grace, one of the group’s youngest volunteers, gets ready with a delivery

But Thompson said the heavy leafleting was also key to the group’s success: “Many other groups rely on Facebook or WhatsApp to reach those in need and we knew this may mean many older or vulnerable people were falling through the cracks.

“So far we have delivered leaflets to 67,000 homes and every day we are reaching more and more people.”

Paul told 853: “We have been overwhelmed by the call for volunteers. As of 7pm on Monday, we had a total of 715 volunteers. We are able to allocate a person in need a buddy as soon as they come in using our computer mapping system.

“Within days of the project starting it picked up an incredible amount of momentum and we didn’t really get a chance to take stock of what was going on, just simply deal with what was before us.

“It was only about three weeks in that we got the chance to take a breath and take in the landscape. What we saw was this amazing group of people who had banded together to help the elderly and vulnerable. It was astonishing and really quite humbling to see the enthusiasm of the people of Bexley.”

Paul said that older people had been “calling our helpdesk in tears, thinking that they had been forgotten about, only to get a flyer through the door which gave them hope, a buddy and fresh food and care products as a result”.

The group has been working alongside the main Bexley volunteer effort – run by Bexley Voluntary Service Council – and the Howbury Friends food bank in Slade Green. Residents of other boroughs have been in touch to ask about setting up their own groups.

Paul added: “We want this group to continue long after Covid has been beaten.”

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