The Coronavirus outbreak has brought hard times to many of us, alongside news of the problems and failures in the Government’s response. But we can find positives, and hope for the future, in the way Shrewsbury people have responded and reached out to each other.

Elisabeth Roberts, who set up the ‘Shrewsbury and Surrounding Villages COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group’ on Facebook, says, Together we provide delivery of supplies to vulnerable people in Shrewsbury (approximately 7 each day), prescription collections, and dog walking. The Facebook group aims to provide up-to-date information and help with mental health. I have also been referring families to Shrewsbury foodbank and delivering to those who are isolating themselves.” The Facebook group has grown to over 3500 members.

“I was supposed to run this year’s London Marathon so, instead, I joined in with my school’s 2.6 fundraising, where I cycled the 26.2 miles. The money I raised will be going to the local Women’s Refuge, as one of the awful results of lockdown is that domestic violence has massively increased.”

In Bicton Heath & Gains Park Shay Corrigan has established a local community action group. The group now provides a welcome safety net for more than 70 members. Shay distributed flyers to make residents aware of the group, and set up a Facebook page for people to post questions, requests or offers of help. Anyone not using Facebook can make contact by phone or email. Shay liaised with the Co-op and the local church to organise food deliveries. Prescriptions have been collected and dog walking has been arranged. Sometimes what has been needed is simply telephone support for those isolated and needing a chat.

Shay says, “At times we have really struggled to keep in touch with everyone, so I would like to say thank you to any resident that expressed an interest in helping. Volunteers have come forward from all age groups and backgrounds. Many we have helped have said how nice it is that there are people willing to help, and to know that they are not alone.”

Facemasks and discos

Shrewsbury resident Naomi Yates says, ‘I started sewing face masks. My mum posted about it in a Mutual Aid Facebook group and we’ve received requests for face masks from over 10 care homes. Mum and I wanted to volunteer but my mum is immunocompromised so this has been perfect for us to do from home and feel useful. So far, we’ve been able to donate over 1,000 masks to care homes and local people, and we hope to send some to supermarkets that have priority shopping for the vulnerable and elderly.”

Meanwhile, over in Frankwell, Mike and Hatti Edwards have been lifting their neighbours’ spirits by running the socially-distanced Longner Street 10-Minute Disco, every Saturday at 6pm, actively supported by local police.

The wider effects of lockdown

Pauline Stewart gives us her personal account of coping with the current lockdown: “I’m a senior citizen and in good health, so the lockdown has not been a hardship for me. I shop once a week at a supermarket, which is organised for social distancing. Repeat prescriptions are working, with delivery from my medical centre. I walk out every day for exercise. The air quality is much improved and we can hear the birds singing without the noise of the traffi c. Cycles have been out in abundance. In Shrewsbury we need more cycle ways for safety and more public transport to reduce road traffic.
“There are many families who have gone through serious times and great diffi culties. It is no surprise that we have food banks and people dependent on charities. We had that before the Covid-19 virus, due to all the cuts and the austerity that we have endured over the last 10 years. I feel strongly for families that have to rely on help, but it’s good to see so many volunteers.
“Homelessness is a big concern to me. I was brought up in the early 40s, when we never saw anyone homeless. It was very good news that the Prince Rupert Hotel accommodated local homeless people. We need a night shelter in our town. When we moved here over 30 years ago there were at least two. The Ark does what it can in a small building and there is a shop we can support.”

Disappointment in the Tory Government response

A Shrewsbury pensioner sent us this: “I believe things would be different if we had a Labour government. The Conservatives have reduced health funding and privatised a lot of the NHS. I read that the part of the PPE disaster is because PPE supply is controlled through 11 separate private contracts, which have been poorly administered. Hospitals were not allowed to order their own supplies and local manufacturers and suppliers were not allowed to be used.
“It’s astonishing what medical staff have managed to do, without national leadership, without even the right equipment. Many of those staff who were not provided with appropriate PPE have died, and the government is now planning a pay freeze for NHS and other public service workers.
“This crisis we’re in may be unprecedented, but it wasn’t unexpected. A viral pandemic has been recognised as the most likely threat to the UK for a number of years but the Conservatives have ignored the risk. Why was our government so unprepared? How can we have let this happen?”

Employment and unemployment

Helen Brown describes the virus1 elfects on employment1 particularly for young people:
“Before the pandemic, I was working in a busy cafe near Shrewsbury, for a charity which has many volunteers,  as well as paid staff. Having left university with a spring in my step, I had applied for several posts, but without success. So, like many people I applied for what was available: low skilled, insecure employment, with no written contract, working most weekends and being paid below the living wage.
“As the corona virus started to spread across mainland Europe and the number of deaths began to rise, the message at work appeared to be, ‘Don’t Panic; carry on serving customers and taking the money!’ But then my hours started to be cut. As zero-hours employees we didn’t know how we would be treated. When the total shut-down came, we had twenty-four hours’ notice. Fifteen more young people losing their livelihoods; hardly surprising in Tory Britain. Because of the pandemic we have also lost the companionship of meeting up.
“Fortunately, I’ve been able to get a few hours a week in a local village shop. Now I’m considered a key worker, have contracted hours, and have joined a union. But it leaves me wishing I had more power to contribute to a fairer, more equitable society. Many young people (like others!) are working hard and putti ng themselves at risk.
“The same newspapers that called for striking junior doctors to be sacked (The Sun, 2016) now label them as heroes. While carers are applauded, a quarter of them are on zero hours contracts. Those shop workers and delivery drivers may be thanked, but their wages won’t be raised.
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