Volunteers return to offer lockdown support

A four-week national lockdown that came into force today (Thursday) will see pubs, restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues in Biddulph close in a bid to reduce the number of coronavirus cases and prevent further strain on the NHS.
Volunteers in the town are expecting an increase in demand for support schemes and hope that residents will be prepared for the new restrictions.
Under the national measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday (31st October) schools, universities and nurseries will be allowed to stay open, as well as supermarkets, chemists and takeaways. It was also announced last week that the furlough scheme has been extended and will continue to pay up to 80% of wages for employees unable to work.
Since the first lockdown in March, demand for support schemes run by the Biddulph Youth and Community Zone has “gone through the roof” according to manager Antony Capostagno.
Before the initial lockdown, the zone was putting together an average of 100 fruit and veg boxes a week, that it sold for £3. At the height of the pandemic, it was averaging 280 boxes a week.
It also saw a rise in demand for its Free Food Friday project, where those who need some extra help to feed their family over the weekend can drop by to collect essentials. The zone is now putting together between 50 and 60 bags of free food each week.
Both schemes will continue during this second national lockdown, but many of its other social inclusion projects, including youth groups and fitness classes will be moved online.
“We are not expecting demand to go up as much as it did at the start of the initial lockdown, but we are prepared for it to go up slightly,” said Mr Capostagno.
“The situation is different this time because people will be a bit more prepared than in March and will know what to expect. There also seems to be a bit more job security than there was before, so we’re hoping there isn’t too much of an impact.
“Last time demand went through the roof and we had to recruit more volunteers. The community came out in droves to help, which was amazing.
“The pandemic has had a massive impact on us as a community centre and, although we are a lottery-funded organisation, that money only helps us to get by. We still need to create sustainability by making sure that we have money coming in from other places to keep us going for another five years.
“The social distancing rules have put a strain on the youth clubs we run, and it has also meant that we can’t hire the venue out as much as we did before the pandemic. We are not at risk, we just need to continue getting supported as we are now.”
While some of the volunteers who gave their time to help out at the zone during the last lockdown have stayed on, it would still benefit from a few more volunteers on a Thursday morning to help put together food packages. Those interested should call the zone on 01782 244288.
This week, the town’s high street was busy with residents stocking up on essentials before the new rules came into force today (Thursday). Wayne Rogers, an Independent Town Councillor who works on High Street, said that panic buying has been prevalent.
“There has been chaos on the high street this week with people panic buying,” he said.
“It’s good for the till, but it’s driving us mad! It’s the rush before the impact.”
Coun Rogers worried that some retailers being classed as “non-essential” under the new restrictions and certain shops having to close would have a detrimental impact on the town’s businesses.
He said: “For some shops, it’s going to be devastating. The Government has been trying to delay bringing in any new restrictions for as long as possible, but if they want Christmas to be as normal as it can be then they have had to announce this lockdown.”
Coun Rogers was one of a number of those involved with a town council initiative that saw “fit and able” members and officers coordinating the deliveries of more than 2,500 prescriptions from the town’s pharmacies for people not able to access help from friends and neighbours.
He told the Chronicle that a meeting would take place today where the volunteers will consider whether or not to start the initiative up again, to help those who may have to isolate.
He said: “People from the chemists have told us that they are getting busy again and it will be discussed on Thursday. I anticipate that the deliveries will get started up again. It was manic last time, we expected to only do a few hundred deliveries but ended up doing a few thousand, but we did it because we enjoyed it.”
The town’s mayor, Independent Coun John Jones, also expected that the initiative was likely to resume.
He said: “People will pull together again over the next few weeks, we need to look after one another. We are all happy to help where we can – I said to one of my regular clients when we were last delivering prescriptions that, even when the scheme was finished, they should not hesitate to carry on ringing if they were stuck for anything.”