Torbay’s charities and voluntry groups help communities contaminated by Cryptosporidium

Communities come together in a crisis, none more so than in the last few days in Paignton and Brixham when water supplies were contaminated by Cryptosporidium.

Neighbours helped each other running errands and making sure that everyone had adequate supplies of boiled or bottled water.

Tens of thousands of people were hit hard when the parasite was identified in the water supply last week, as dozens fell ill, complaining of diarrhoea, stomach pains, nausea or vomiting, a mild fever, and loss of appetite.

Staff from the charity and voluntary sector were the first to respond. They were already supporting people across the area before the official boil water announcement was made by South West Water (SWW).

Emma Barton, the director of Brixham Does Care whose team are still helping householders hit by the bug, was distributing bottled water nearly 24 hours before the official announcement.

“We decided rather than waiting to see if SWW would be distributing water, we bought some on Tuesday and delivered to some of our most vulnerable service users,” she said.

“Most people we visited just took it in their stride however, there were some who found it difficult to understand. We obviously wish those who have been ill make a speedy recovery.

“Overall, after the initial outcry, Brixham people came together as we always do, and we think the situation has been handled very well,” she added, recalling that one of their service users responded to the crisis with the words, “It’s ok I’ll just drink wine”.

At YES Brixham the response was similar with their project manager and fundraising manager, Andrew Wade, saying, “As soon as the ‘boil water’ notice came out, working with the Brixham Community Builder, Helen Ambler, we contacted our most vulnerable people and made sure they were on SWW vulnerable customer list and had access to a supply of bottled water.

“The demand for food parcels has gone up probably due to cash flow issues, with people on credit meters using more electricity than usual boiling kettles. Another factor is the psychological effects of the crisis triggering ‘hoarding’ in vulnerable people.

“People have been coming into our drop-in The Edge to receive factual trustworthy advice. We have been able to debunk internet misinformation.”

Torbay Communities had their dedicated Community Builders, Helen Ambler and Gill Knight on the ground in both Brixham and affected areas of Paignton to identify vulnerable householders ensuring they had water and were put onto the SWW priority list.

The Torbay Community Helpline which is staffed by a combination of volunteers and paid call handlers also provided advice for callers worried by what was happening.

Looking back at her week, Helen said: “Brixham residents and those in the affected parts of Paignton have shown a fantastic community spirit supporting each other.

“I couldn’t be prouder to be the community builder for Brixham. Everyone in the community gets stuck in to help each other in their hours of need. My phone has not stopped ringing with people worried about vulnerable people they know that they couldn’t get to personally.”

All three charities have been working alongside Torbay Council’s Public Health, the NHS Adult Social Care team, care workers and South West Water, with daily meetings to update everyone involved.

But there were further examples of community spirit shining through, with businesses stepping up to provide bottled water before the distribution centres were set up at Freshwater car park, Broadsands car park, and the Churston car boot sale site.

In Brixham’s town centre mum-of-three, 34-year-old Mary Allwood and a local businessman from Torbay Fruit and Vegetables in Fore Street, Brixham, joined forces to buy bottled water and in the first 48 hours, handed out £750 worth.

Communities in Torbay have, as they did during COVID-19, proved that they are resilient and supportive. In the words of Andrew Wade: “Brixham is, as we all know, a tight-knit ‘can do’ community and, as in the past, has come together to support our most vulnerable citizens.“