If Covid-19 had been the plot line of a sci-fi novel, you can guarantee that the characters would quickly descend into brutish selfishness in the face of the pandemic. What you wouldn’t see was around 1,000 people signing up to help their neighbours on the council website. You wouldn’t see council staff, from enforcement officers, to planners and librarians, offering to distribute food parcels, providing company to lonely residents and comforting families at the local crematorium. But that’s what has happened in Kingston and I am enormously proud of how our community has come together in the face of this crisis.
Like other councils, we appealed for volunteers - in our case more than 1,200 people signed up, 250 of them our own staff. We quickly set up an online hub and phone service, working with voluntary sector partners to ensure our residents got the help they needed. From delivering prescriptions and providing a new befriending service, to sourcing and delivering meals and food parcels, our network of deployed staff and local volunteers has been a lifeline for the most vulnerable in our borough.
We’ve produced handbooks for specific roles and volunteers receive training from our social care professionals where appropriate. Together, council staff, voluntary partners and local volunteers have already been able to assist more than 1,100 vulnerable people who are currently in isolation with no local support network.
Many of our volunteers are people whose own work has dried up. There’s the carpet fitter who now drives his van to pick up leftover fruit and veg at 6am from the wholesale market; there’s the professional chef who has helped produce 6,000 free meals for residents who need them and the classroom assistant who passed the food hub, asked what was going on and now delivers food parcels every day.
Kingston may be affluent but it has always had pockets of deprivation and this crisis means we have increasing numbers of people in real need; families who can’t feed their children and workers from the gig economy facing homelessness. One thing Kingston is not short of is generosity. When word went out that the Foodbank was short of supplies almost 100 residents offered to set up collection boxes outside their homes where their neighbours can safely leave donations.
For those who can afford to buy their own food but can’t leave their homes, we’ve launched a shopping service and deliver supermarket orders that have been booked for collection.
The Council’s Neighbourhood Rangers and Cycle Instructors have teamed up with volunteers from Good Gym to deliver 170 medical prescriptions for residents across the borough. We’re also getting in touch with people who are discharged from hospital to check what assistance they might need.
Residents access support by filling in an online form or calling us on 020 8547 5000. Our Kingston Stronger Together team triage requests within 24 hours, supported by experienced social care professionals.
We have called our hub, Kingston Stronger Together. So far, it’s proved as good as its word.
Councillor Caroline Kerr
Leader, Kingston Council