April 06, 2020
Every day is bringing new stories of graft, fortitude and benevolence, which started from small shoots of involuntary assistance from key organisations, but as the gravity of the current situation has deepened and incremental Government restrictions have been enforced, the people of Leeds have truly come together.
There is still an awful lot to be done, as we grapple with the severity of the crisis, get a hold of meaningful and reliable figures on infections and testing procedures and begin to understand in how many ways people are being affected. Currently, it is impossible to put a timeline together on how long this will last, and how long certain measures and restrictions will need to be in place before some longer term projects can be up and running again. And as well as helping the NHS, key workers and vital services, and treating and isolating people directly affected by the virus, there is a network of people and organisations being constructed to help those vulnerable people who are struggling with isolation, some of whom were struggling even when they had the full freedom to go about their daily business exactly how they pleased. Now that critical support services have – in some cases – ceased to function or operate as before, there is a vital need to maintain contact and support for vulnerable members of the community.
It is easy to forget about these people when our own personal, everyday lives are cluttered with routines, responsibilities, timetables, deadlines and schedules. Now all that has disappeared, or been radically adapted, it is heart-warming to observe how an elementary human spirit has quickly surfaced to not only bring the best out of people, but to energise them and focus minds to produce direct and tangible action. Foremost in that undiluted demonstration of gratitude is the ‘clap for carers’ taking place at 8pm each Thursday evening, which is perhaps the most visible expression of nationwide togetherness you are ever likely to see, as housebound communities blink into the daylight and appear at their doors and windows for a couple of minutes to show their raucous appreciation to the NHS, social care workers and other key workers.
Voluntary action in South Leeds
In South Leeds, Holbeck Together and Slung Low, to name but two organisations, have come together as community anchor groups and lead organisations of the collaborative movement to ensure vulnerable people are fed, cared for and listened to. Holbeck Together are a Neighbourhood Network Group supporting older and vulnerable people in the Holbeck area of Leeds. Since the outbreak of the pandemic they have experienced a huge increase in the number of people who require extra support and they have partnered with the organisations listed below to deliver food and other vital resources to the people in their area. Slung Low are a theatre group who also run The Holbeck, the oldest working men’s club in the UK, and over the last 12 months have become a central, vital and dependable cog in the South Leeds community.
The local connections of both Holbeck Together and Slung Low have enabled a wealth of organisations to come together for the greater good, such as the Real Junk Food Project and St Vincents, and Holbeck Together have also partnered with Leeds United to launch the ‘United Together’ campaign, which aims to raise precious resources to help fund this vital support. Details can be found at https://www.holbecktogether.org/united-together/ where Holbeck Together and Leeds United are asking people to donate just £1 each towards providing food, support and essential items in this unprecedented situation.
Leeds United have really come to the fore in this crisis. They were the first professional football club to agree a deferment of wages for their playing and coaching staff, to help ensure non-playing staff and casual workers were paid for an indefinite period during the crisis. They have also donated all the food held in stock at Elland Road stadium for matchday catering to Holbeck Together to distribute, and as ingredients for hot dinners dispatched into the community and also to frontline workers who aren’t finding time for a decent hot meal in the midst of the crisis. Finally, a number of first team players have made an anonymous donation to the local foodbank managed by the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust. This is not the first time the players have donated, and also not the first time they have done so without revealing the names of those involved, preferring to remain anonymous so as not to detract attention from the critical cause. Last year the players donated food resources, but in the current crisis they have grouped together to make a sizeable cash donation which is able to help hundreds of families across Leeds.
(Photo credit: Holbeck Together - Leeds United Chief Executive Angus Kinnear with the Holbeck Together team and the food supplies donated by Leeds United)
How you can help Leeds tackle the Coronavirus
In Leeds as a wider area, Voluntary Action Leeds is a partnership with Leeds City Council and a number of charitable organisations, who have joined forces to co-ordinate a city-wide volunteer programme. This was mobilised within days of the Coronavirus pandemic hitting the UK, and as of April 2nd, around 6,000 volunteers had signed up to help in Leeds. There are a range of different roles available including shopping deliveries, preparing meals or making check-in phone calls. Anybody wanting to sign up as a volunteer can do so on the ‘Doing Good Leeds’ website at https://doinggoodleeds.org.uk/covid-19-care-volunteering.html or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Someone will then be in touch to talk to you about key skills and where you may be able to help, all whilst respecting the current social distancing restrictions. Also, if you know anyone in the Leeds area who may require some support there is a dedicated helpline on 0113 3781877.
Leeds City Council has also set-up various helplines and online resources to help people with financial issues, and to assist in explaining what Government initiatives are in place to help with financial difficulties presented by the coronavirus outbreak. This can be viewed here.
Also on a city-wide scale, the government recently announced the establishment of the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme. This has been set up to support the NHS and other organisations in the care sector during the COVID-19 outbreak. The scheme has created an 'army' of volunteers who can offer support to the 1.5million people in England who are at most risk from the virus. Building a skills base will enable doctors, nurses, those working in local authorities and other professionals, to refer people to NHS Volunteer Responders. This will ensure that they have been matched with a reliable, named and vetted volunteer. Details of how to sign up as an NHS Volunteer Responder can be found at https://www.goodsamapp.org/NHS.
Well-established organisations helping the homeless in Leeds – Simon on the Streets and St George’s Crypt - continue to offer their services at this time, whilst the Leeds Food Aid Network are providing support in helping to also tackle food poverty during the crisis.
The Leeds Fans Foodbank setup by the Leeds United Supporters’ Trust is an amalgamation of the Leeds North & West Foodbank and the Leeds South & East Foodbank. In six months the Trust have collected the equivalent of 8,000 meals, mainly through matchday collections from Leeds United fans. Now, of course, they are starved of this vital resource stream and have instead turned to cash donations, at first using the premise that fans could donate the money they would have been spending on a matchday pie or a pint. The Trust's Just Giving site had received donations totalling over £14,000, until some amazing fundraising efforts by Leeds United independent supporters' magazine The Square Ball boosted the funds available to £26,000.
Foodbanks are an important supply source in the community during this current crisis and are experiencing a number of challenges due to the problem of panic-buying. While this has subsided in recent days, as life in lockdown appears to be settling down into a more recognisable routine and shops are better organised in managing shoppers and their supply chains, foodbanks still need our help and donations more than ever. Fareshare and The Trussell Trust are two organisations who support a network of foodbanks across the country. If you or someone you know might wish to support a foodbank or if you’d like to signpost someone to this facility you can find information at https://fareshare.org.uk/ or https://www.trusselltrust.org/ .
(Photo credit: Slung Low - food parcels put together by Slung Low for delivery to some of the vulnerable people of Holbeck)
Looking out for the people of Leeds
New and varied organisations are coming to prominence all the time, and apologies if any key people have been omitted here. The most important factor is that there has been a huge uprising of goodwill, most of which has always been present in Leeds, but which has now been charged with a specific task and has not been found wanting. In normal times, it is easy for such goodwill to remain hidden, because good news stories are rarely the stories that shout loudest. Now, as the distracting fibres and the suffocating layers of everyday life are stripped away, the goodwill of the people of Leeds is laid bare.
Many of the stories we hear are of positivity in the face of adversity, and a stoic insistence on accepting the reality and dealing with it, rather than wallowing in self-pity. As conditions and circumstances become less tolerable we will need this spirit more than ever, and we will need these city-wide resources more than ever. Leeds is in a great place to respond and this controlled reaction will only get stronger. But as we work together to fightback against this pandemic, please don’t assume everything or everyone is covered. Please remember those nearby to you, who are isolated or who are battling with any manner of issues in their lives, and don’t assume because they are not visible that they are OK. And please also remember that everyone is on a steep learning curve. People are learning new information all the time, adapting their skills in new ways, sometimes learning new skills and being made aware of new circumstances and new problems; all the time trying to maintain a sense of calm, focus and achievement, and all the time looking to the longer term.
Leeds is as charged, as watchful and as aware as it has ever been, and it has to be, because this pandemic is indiscriminate. Being safe at home is a blessing - whether or not you are able to be part of the critical response to the pandemic or to continue with work to keep the economy going for our eventual recovery - and there is no better time to put your arms around loved ones and be thankful that you can. But we shouldn’t forget those who don’t have that blessing. So applaud the NHS, applaud all the vital services, but also help them, help each other, and prove that Leeds is well and truly united.
(Lead image: Photo credit - Leeds United Football Club)