'All we have left is each other'

Unite Community members mobilse amid epidemic to support those in need

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Unite Community members are mobilising to help communities at a time of national crisis as the coronavirus epidemic sweeps the UK.


With vast numbers of elderly and immuno-compromised people urged to stay at home for the coming weeks, and with millions of families struggling on low wages and benefits set to be hit hard by the epidemic, and many others others still losing their jobs latogether, Unite Community members are stepping up in their communities to offer help in time of grave need.


Unite member Emma Lang, 24, who started as a Unite Community member, is still involved in community initiatives as part of the Unite young members committee in her region. In response to the coronavirus crisis, she’s spearheaded a Covid-19 support group in Poole, Dorset along with fellow Unite Community member Sarah Ward.


In a matter of days, the group, which uses a Facebook page as a community hub, has had more than 1,700 people join and hundreds of people have committed to volunteer.


In an interview on LBC on Wednesday (March 18), Emma said she and others set up the group after they’d “come across lots of stories of people in isolation — because they had symptoms, or some of them were in high-risk vulnerable groups over 70 for example, who didn’t want to go out to the supermarket where they were more likely to contract the virus”.


She said the support group has three aims — to get essential items to high-risk groups of people who need them; to support local and small businesses, by asking such businesses to, for example, take orders over the phone and volunteers will come to collect and deliver at people’s doorsteps. The third aim, Emma noted, was to tackle loneliness at a time when many community group events have been cancelled.


Emma told UniteLive that the training she received as a Unite Community member was vital in helping her set up the group.


“We received training in setting up grassroots campaigns from the ground up — from using social media, to devising a strategy and establishing goals,” she explained. “If it weren’t for this training, I wouldn’t have been able to do this.”


Since setting up the group, she said she’s encountered “heart-breaking stories that you really wouldn’t believe”.


“We’ve got so many people who’ve lost their jobs and have young children — and they don’t know how they’re going to pay their rents, which are very high in this area,” she said. “Others who rely on food banks are in self-isolation so can’t get to the food banks, or can’t get the food bank vouchers they need because everything has shut down.”


She urged others who are considering starting their own local support groups during the epidemic to “go for it”.


“It’s incredibly rewarding to support your local community at a time like this,” she said. “I advise those who do set up their own groups to have a strategy and make sure you link up with other groups like charities so the response is a coordinated one.”


Emma said one of the main challenges that her group is now working on diligently is to ensure safeguarding for all of their volunteers and the people they’re supporting.


She added that she was pleased to see how communities across the UK are banding together.


“When push comes to shove, people will reach out to others to help. I’m lucky that I’m now in a secure job, but not very long ago I was on a zero-hours contract — the sort of thing that’s happening to people across the UK, losing their jobs and their livelihoods, can happen to any of us and at any time, not just now. It’s always important to stand united with our neighbours but now more than ever.”


Unite Community coordinator in the South West Mark ‘Pasty’ Turner hailed the work that Emma and others like her in the Unite family are doing.


“This is what Unite Community and the wider union is all about — caring for each other and helping our neighbours. It’s important to recognise that this epidemic will hit the most vulnerable in our society the hardest and we have to be there to support them. What Unite Community is doing now to support those in crisis is an extension of what we do on a day-to-day basis. When the economy and everything that holds the system as we know it together begins to fall apart — as it is now — we have to reach out to our communities and our neighbours. All we have left is each other.”


Find out more about the Poole Covid-19 Community Support Group here.

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