community support: How one Fetcham volunteer is putting in the hours

One man in Fetcham is doing more than most to help the less fortunate among us in this time of Covid-19.

Paul Barker, of Cannon Grove, has mobilized a small army of volunteers under the banner of Community Coronavirus Care.

He started with a post offering help on the popular ‘I Live in Fetcham’ Facebook page.   Then a friend suggested the initiative needed a page of its own, and CCC was born.

The next day it had 100 followers, and like a virus with an ‘R’ number well above 1, it was soon in the thousands. Would-be volunteers were getting in touch from Ashtead to Bookham.

“Initially the sense of urgency was epic,” he says.  “People were panic buying at supermarkets, and elderly and vulnerable residents were struggling to get food.

“It’s calmed down a little, but there’s still a lot more work to be done, and the demand on CCC has been incredible. 

“We are doing hundreds of jobs a week whether it’s shopping, collecting prescriptions, dog walking, and we’re finding we’re offering emotional support as well. 

“People are getting lonely, and isolated so we find some of our clients are ringing up for half an hour’s chat with a volunteer.”

Paul’s efforts quickly attracted the attention of the local press and he was even on ITV News.  More volunteers and donations have followed. 

As well as working with Community Coronavirus Care, Paul has also begun volunteering for Mid Surrey Community Fridges. Since 2017, the charity has been distributing surplus food from supermarkets, and it’s now facing unprecedented demand.

In recent weeks Community Fridges has been shifting four times the amount of food it was handling before the crisis, currently 900 bags of food a week.  And because of Covid-19 restrictions, everything has to be delivered.

Clare Davies, one of the charity’s founders, explains that to access help you must be referred by a doctor, social worker, or another member of the community, via their website. Unlike the Epsom and Ewell Food Bank, which is also delivering food in our area, there is no voucher system.

Mid Surrey Community Fridges is delivering 900 grocery bags a week - four times the quantity of food it was providing before the crisis.

“With the Covid crisis, people can’t come out of their houses, can’t access the food, they’ve got no income. There’s also a stigma, there’s a lot of shyness and a lot of shame, “ says Clare.

With the extra transport costs, increased payments to food waste charity Fareshare (which sources the food), Mid Surrey Community Fridges needs more funding.

Clare says: “Tell people we are here.  We need funding, we’ll need drivers and more volunteers when furlough is over and people go back to work.  There’s a volunteer sheet and how to donate on the website.”

Paul, who has a garage business in Leatherhead, and has been volunteering with various charities for more than 10 years, is concerned that recovery from Covid will take a long time.

He says: “Let’s hope this keeps going after Covid.  The outpouring of support love and generosity has been absolutely mind blowing.

“Within the local area it’s been absolutely incredible, the amount of people who have stepped up to the mark has been amazing and long may it continue, that’s what I say.”

Volunteers at Community Coronavirus Care can be reached on 0800 3077111.

You can also contact CCC at communitycoronaviruscare@gmail.com or by visiting the CCC Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/3253965837951199/

Mid Surrey Community Fridges can be reached via the website midsurreycommunityfridges.co.uk.  Donations and volunteers are very welcome.

Paul Barker and son Jack (front right) with other community fridge volunteers at the Leatherhead hub.

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