British Asia News By Sushma Lobo

Leicester April 9 (SL/BAN) As we experience a global crisis with so many COVID-19 related restrictions and so many of the community in lockdown, it’s only natural that we want to support community members in the high risk bracket. An integral part of our community are those volunteers who are heroes, our community heroes at British Asia news we recognise, highlight and #communityheroes.

British Asia news speaks to Priya Thakrar from Leicester who started like, many of us, worried about how some citizens in Leicester will manage with basic necessities, such as grocery shopping, getting medicines, medical treatment, or just having a friendly voice to talk to whilst in self isolation. She wanted to do her bit; she’s working with various networks across Leicester but a majority of her work is with Mutual Aid because they are a structured network already providing support during COVID-19. Working from home she has also taken on a role to volunteer at this crucial time.

Talking to Priya it was clear she’s a community hero and the whole network team of volunteers she is working with are our nation’s community heroes. “When the pandemic started to come to light in the UK, I felt really helpless and thought this has the potential to affect everyone, we have our NHS staff, frontline workers and other keyworkers who are going to be out there to keep the country up and running. And many people, such as the elderly, ill and families with children at home under lockdown would struggle. I thought what can I do to support my community and my city”.

Having this mentality of having an impact locally but also nationally and globally as a result was her thinking.

“I wanted to help people navigate through the COVID 19 crisis, knowing that there is support around them”. Aware that there were people already in vulnerable positions with physical and mental health needs, which possibly could not be met during the crisis due to their normal support channels being closed or restricted, Priya wanted to reach out to these people and let them know that there is still support available.

As a first point of call Priya reached out to volunteer networks, charities and food banks in Leicester. One of her initial actions was to organise deliveries from food banks to people who could not afford food due to lack of community and family support they may have had previously, owing to the lockdown..

Priya then came across Mutual Aid, an organisation model that existed prior to COVID-19 to create a reciprocal relationship between services and resources. People or organisations provide a resource and those in need get a service. In light of COVID-19 various Mutual Aid services popped up world wide. In the UK Mutual Aid is working nationally and Priya is the liaison for Leicester.

What does this involve?

A key element is recruiting volunteers who are fit and well. There are now over a thousand Mutual Aid volunteers in Leicester, all of whom are heroes in their own right. Those volunteers are connected with to residents in their community ward who have asked for support, to let them know that they are there on a personal level. Each ward has a councillor, who overlooks and make sure all government and NHS guidelines are met, each ward has a leader that is overseeing the function of that ward and directing the volunteers and then there are the volunteers themselves. The volunteers help with anything from shopping, to emergency prescription supplies, working with pharmacists, to phone calls (being a friendly voice on the other line to provide moral support at this difficult time).

Mutual aid flyers are posted out to residents in Leicester for them to then reach out if they need support. Priya said, “For example a lady shielding wanted to send a birthday card to her brother, but couldn’t leave her house due to isolation, so a volunteer on her street arranged for the card to be posted. Simple things like this make a huge difference – both to the person in need and also to the volunteer who feels a real sense of satisfaction from helping others at a time of national emergency”.

Priya and Mutual Aid have been supported by BBC Radio Leicester to raise awareness of the support available. This has led to many requests for help coming through their channels.

So many messages have been coming in from the community to say thank you and appreciation for the volunteers. Priya said, “It has motivated the volunteers and made them smile, knowing that what they are doing is really meaningful and worthwhile. It has helped to keep them going, knowing their support counts.”

But Priya doesn’t just stop here – she has that altruistic streak inside her and it shines bright, highlighting what a community hero she is.

An NHS nurse working in ICU reached out and said they were really working long shifts and leaving the ward feeling really tired, physically and emotionally. Priya supported them in creating a refresh zone, where before the staff leave they have showers with small luxuries to feel good before they leave, unwind and relieve their stress. Priya got in touch with some local businesses and volunteer courier services, “and now there is a refresh zone set up in all 3 Leicester hospitals, using the products kindly donated by local firms” she said.

Priya has also asked for donations of toys and books that people no longer need for children and has started sending them out to families who needs them for their children, as they are spending much more time at home than usual and need additional items to keep them occupied. These have been sent to various families, all of whom are really grateful for the generous donations made by the people in the community. 

“There are so many brilliant people, businesses, charities and food banks in Leicester”,  says Priya.

“With a large Asian elderly community who were previously fed daily by attending the temple or community places,  there was a real concern that they would go hungry and become ill as their normal meal services were closed due to the lock down. To help such people, a tiffin service was sourced from voluntary groups set up to serve such people – they are now delivering fresh hot Indian vegetarian food for a small fee of £1.50.”

Priya has cultivated relationships with volunteers all over Leicester whose work is applaudable and are our #communityheroes. Well done, the UK has a chance of fighting through this tragedy we face as COVID-19 and succeeding with a team like you all.

If you are a resident of Leicester and need support or can volunteer, you can contact Priya Thakrar.

 

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