The Bishop of Newcastle has paid tribute to volunteers who have kept people safe during the Covid crisis.

The Right Reverend Christine Hardman said the efforts of volunteers in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland had been “an inspiration”.

Their work to support community services had “kept us going” and would be vital to the region’s recovery from Covid-19, she said.

Support provided by volunteers has ranged from deliveries of food and medical supplies to the vulnerable people, to social check ins on people who are lonely or isolated, to morale boosting events and competitions.

Bishop Christine, who chairs the North of Tyne Combined Authority Inclusive Economy Board, said: “One of the most encouraging things to come out of the COVID-19 crisis has been the willingness of people to come forward and offer to help.

“Volunteers have delivered shopping and prescriptions for those unable to get out or unable to use online services; they’ve delivered activity packs for children missing out on school and to older people who are shielded; they’ve made phone calls to check on people isolating at home and they’ve worked alongside statutory services, such as the NHS to ensure people get the care and support they need.

“People have really gone the extra mile to help; it has been inspiring to see.”

Members of the The Isolation Support Group in Amble

Members of the The Isolation Support Group in Amble

When the Covid-19 crisis began, support groups of volunteers came together quickly to provide help where they saw it was needed most in their communities.

Many worked with existing voluntary sector organisations and town and parish councils to help those who were struggling to cope or who needed reassurance help was available, should they need it.

The North of Tyne Combined Authority Inclusive Economy Board, which was formed in March and includes key figures from the Voluntary and Community Sector, will focus on finding good work for young people seeking education or training.

Made up of business professionals, representatives from the voluntary sector, and members of the public, it will play a key role in the economic recovery of the North of Tyne, with a mandate to make Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland a better place for people seeking new or better work, and those aiming to return or get into work for the first time.

Bishop Christine said the work done to build bonds between the public, private and voluntary sectors would allow for a greater understanding of the issues and challenges facing people in the North of Tyne, and offer insight into what support and interventions were best.

She said: “Volunteers are playing a crucial role alongside health and care services providing care and helping communities to cope with the challenges that coronavirus has thrown at them.

“Over the coming months and years they will continue to make an enormous contribution, beyond the initial impact of this virus, for the many causes, charities and community organisations that make a difference to people’s lives every day.”

North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll

North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll

North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll said: “It’s our friends and families who support us through life.  This crisis has shown that we’ve extended that caring instinct to people we don’t know, but who need our help.  Everyone who has volunteered is an inspiration.

“Rebuilding from this crisis is a monumental task.  Our inclusive economy board is focusing good work.  We’ve all been clapping for key workers.  Too often they’re undervalued and under paid.  Our Good Work Pledge is there to make sure people are properly valued for the work they do. We have to end stressful, insecure employment practices and in-work poverty.

“Bishop Christine brings compassion & experience to our Inclusive Economy Board.  She’s a joy to work with.”

North of Tyne Cabinet Member for Employability and Inclusion and deputy leader of Newcastle City Council Cllr Joyce McCarty

North of Tyne Cabinet Member for Employability and Inclusion and deputy leader of Newcastle City Council Cllr Joyce McCarty

Cllr Joyce McCarty, who sits on the Inclusive Economy Board and is the North of Tyne Combined Authority Cabinet Member for Employability and Inclusion and Deputy Leader of Newcastle City Council said: “I would like to thank the volunteers across the region who have stepped forward during this crisis.

“Throughout the pandemic the spirit, determination and kindness of people in our region has shone brightly. As well as the volunteers our communities have come together showing incredible kindness, friendship and neighbourhood cohesion.

“An army of volunteers stepped forward, despite the challenging nature of the work, to provide help some of the most vulnerable people in the region and support organisations dedicated to helping them.

“Our voluntary and community sector has done an incredible job coordinated these volunteers and harnessing the incredible goodwill.

“In the coming days, weeks, months and years we will emerge from this crisis and start to rebuild our region. We must continue to draw strength from this spirit of generosity, build on the incredible community cohesion and join together as one.”

Newcastle City Council recruited its own ‘Toon Army’ of volunteers to support those who reached out to the CityLife Line for help.

They have helped make deliveries of food and medicine to those isolating, and have provided much needed social contact, reunited neighbours, and even provided dog walking services.

A public appeal is in place to allow residents to help voluntary and community sector organisations purchase provisions they need to support the residents they are helping during the lockdown.

The appeal, which was launched with an initial target of £30,000, is now closing in on the £50,000 mark.

Sporting Chance food delivery

Sporting Chance food delivery

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Staff and volunteers from the charity Sporting Chance have delivered more than 2,200 food parcels to city residents, from their base in Cowgate.

VODA volunteer Julie Partridge

VODA volunteer Julie Partridge

VODA has recruited 250 ‘Good Neighbour’ volunteers to help with shopping, prescription collection and food parcel deliveries.

Whitley Bay Round Table is working with Whitley Bay Big Local to provide local residents with access to food and support.

The Bay Foodbank have seen a sharp increase in the numbers of people needing their help and has moved to a 100% home delivery service.

Age UK North Tyneside and Dreamshine CIC have recruited volunteers to offer telephone befriending services.

Family Gateway volunteers have been delivering food and carrying out doorstep welfare checks.

Alston Moor Churches COVID- 19 Group has a refrigerated van which makes deliveries to 15-20 households in Northumberland a week, delivering groceries, prescription and other essentials.

Members of the The Isolation Support Group in Amble

Members of the The Isolation Support Group in Amble

Amble Isolation Support has 20 volunteers who have supported 50 households with deliveries of food, parcels, prescriptions and even a birthday cake!

Cramlington Cares has developed 27 hyper-local support groups, with 21 group co-ordinators and 31 volunteers.  This arrangement enables support at a very local level, enabling neighbours to support one another with shopping , sharing information, and providing much-needed social contact.

Allen Valley Churches’ 23 volunteers have been providing a telephone support group for parishioners.  They also undertake shopping, collecting prescriptions, solve little issues, and stream their services on YouTube and Facebook.

They have also set up scarecrow photograph festival on their website in an effort to boost morale and engender community spirit.

 Wylam Community Help COVID-19 Group used Facebook and the Parish newsletter to recruit 102 volunteers who provide fresh cooked meal deliveries to 20 residents every Sunday, drop off prescriptions weekly to 5-8 people and make 2-4 food shopping deliveries per week.

 Alnwick Baptist Church has 30 volunteers providing food deliveries, prescription drop-offs and referral to public services. Their biggest challenge has been in supporting those with no internet access and those in residential homes.

Cramlington Town Council’s 117 volunteers dealt with 70 requests for support in one week, which included shopping, food parcels and prescription pick-ups.

Hexham Town Council

With over 80 volunteers and 22 active volunteers, Hexham Town Council has dealt with 9 requests for shopping, 13 for prescription pick-ups and 15 requests for information, most often from people who currently have support around them but want to know what to do if that support became unavailable.

Alnwick Town Council volunteers deliver more than 90 prescriptions every week and have continued to support Alnwick Food Bank in sending approximately 90 food parcels out every week.  Volunteers are supporting their neighbours in their local area with regular phone calls for some, delivering books and shopping for others.

Some of the food at Alnwick Community Larder

Some of the food at Alnwick Community Larder