22 Mar THREE YEARS SINCE FIRST LOCKDOWN BEGAN
By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead
On the one hand, it feels like an eternity ago, but on the other, it feels like only yesterday, either way, it is three years ago since COVID struck and all our lives changed forever.
Monday, March 23rd 2020 was the day we went into the first lockdown and coronavirus, which had arrived in the Bay just a couple of weeks previously, began to take its toll in so many ways.
First was the illness itself which laid people low, filled hospital beds and killed hundreds, devastating families and overwhelming communities with a fear of the unknown. And there were lots of new words to get used to – lockdown, coronavirus, COVID-19 and others became part of everyday use, self-isolating, pandemic and key workers, to name a few.
A week before the lockdown the Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline was launched, staffed by the Torbay Community Development Trust, Healthwatch Torbay, Age UK Torbay, Citizens Advice Torbay and Brixham Does Care and the phones started ringing from the moment it launched.
Within days, the phones were ringing off the hook at more than 60 per hour as people sought reassurance, information, and advice alongside requests for practical support. And every time the Government made an announcement, the number of calls rocketed.
Initially, it was all about food and prescription as supermarket shelves emptied as quickly as they were stacked, leaving worried vulnerable people behind closed doors, not knowing where their next meal was coming from.
Community Builders were joined by volunteers shopping for essentials and joining queues that snaked around neighbourhoods outside the doors of any food store or pharmacy.
It was scary and we had no idea what to expect. But we had each other and here in Torbay, communities rallied like never before to make sure no one went hungry and no one became lonely and isolated.
We quickly recruited an army of volunteers – at one stage 1,700 of them who were ready to help and support their neighbours, relatives, friends and even strangers and were prepared to put themselves at risk to do so.
Our volunteers were on hand to shop for food, deliver food parcels, collect prescriptions, walk dogs, and pick up the phone to talk to people who otherwise might not hear a friendly voice from one week to the next.
And for some, that has not changed. On the contrary, it has got worse.
People who were already vulnerable before the crisis still are and others who were just about coping are now struggling in the wake of being isolated for long periods, their already parlous opportunities to meet people ripped away.
Those small but important touch points where familiar faces were greeted at the bus stop, in the queue for the till at the local supermarket or at the hairdressers were lost, leaving a huge void in some people’s lives.
In many ways we are only seeing the true fall out of the COVID crisis now, three years later as life returns to normal for the majority and those suffering are at risk of being forgotten. Poverty has long been a problem in the Bay and that has been exacerbated by first by COVID and now by the cost of living crisis.
New people are being reduced to penury, having lost their jobs or simply being unable to make ends meet because of the cost of living crisis and the far-reaching effects are taking a huge toll on mental health. People need help, empathy and support and they need it now.
A report out last week about poverty levels across the country makes for sobering, if unsurprising reading – six of the top ten poorest neighbourhoods in the whole of Devon are here in Torbay and they represent the top six.
The gap between the haves and the have-nots is enormous with Churston and Galmpton coming out on top with average earnings of £28,700 with central Paignton, the lowest at £23,700.
There is much work to be done and whilst the politicians argue about the whys and the wherefores, the Helpline will continue to help those who need it most and remains three years after its launch, the “One Call That’s All” support line that it set out to be.
If you need help or if you can provide help by volunteering, please ring the Helpline on 01803 446022.
Woman in mask photo courtesy of Freepik.com