Closure of Friendship Group 'a Loss' For the Elderly

However community response to calls for aid for vulnerable has been huge

A tea dance at Age Concern Chiswick

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The closure of a face-to-face friendship group for the elderly is going to be “a loss” for members as coronavirus measures are hiked, a charity trustee has said.

Age Concern Chiswick has shut its doors as of Monday, 16 March, to its weekly friendship club which has around 135 members who usually attend for companionship and activities.

It comes as government advice has called for measures such as an end to non-essential contact and more home working.

Trustee Sara Ioannides told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We closed yesterday, it was very sad because we see these people every week, we just run a friendship club…we don’t normally do any outreach or go to people’s houses.

“We have telephoned all our members, we’ve made a shortlist of those who need shopping done or visiting and we have got a large group of volunteers who are going to be doing that.

“We are going to call them every few days to check in with them.”

Ms Ioannides said the group of 20 volunteers has been “inundated” with calls from people offering to help, and that the team has created an online list of their vulnerable members and their needs so they “don’t fall by the wayside.”

“They are grateful. We have had some very, very kind comments but also some of them hadn’t quite realised how serious it was, Ms Ioannides added.

“It is going to be a loss to them. It is going to be difficult.”

While the group secretary said she was “concerned” about the possibility of a volunteer shortage if a number had to self-isolate, they were taking it “step by step” in dealing with the escalating crisis.

“We have lots of healthy young people, they will be careful for their own protection. We hope for the best and we prepare for the worst,” she added.

Age Concern Chiswick are contactable on or through their Facebook page.

A borough-wide group called Hounslow Covid-19 Mutual Aid has also launched on Facebook as a way to coordinate a community response to help vulnerable people through the pandemic.

After being set up on Saturday, March 14, the initiative has between 50 to 100 people signing up to volunteer to do odd jobs, supermarket shops and help in other ways.

On setting up the local efforts, founder Asif Malik said: “I didn’t see anything so I [thought I] should do the right thing by doing it myself. It feels like an awful amount of work to get involved with but we will see how it goes.

“The worry is for people who don’t have the support network around for them, we need to look out for them…It is making sure those people are identified.”

The 54-year-old handyman also wants to see an end to the panic buying which is “not helping” and thinks too many people are sharing different advice, even though it’s well intentioned.

He hopes that a co-ordinated local group will help reassure people.

The Brentford resident added: “I think it is going to get worse before it gets better. The main thing is if we can get people more educated and informed about what is going to happen so hopefully there will be less panic out there.”

Brentford and Isleworth’s Constituency Labour Party (CLP) is also encouraging its 2,000 members – particularly of the younger age-groups, to get involved if they feel safe to do so.

CLP officers and chair Salman Shaheen decided to suggest re-diverting the group’s efforts over the weekend, as campaigning for the mayoral elections has come to a halt.

Mr Shaheen said: “It’s come at a time we were just about to have mayoral elections, we were all fired up to go campaigning, door knocking has ceased as well – I don’t think people want that at this time.”

But for younger members he added: “If they want to go out as campaigning has stopped, they can do something.”

In a letter to members, the CLP said: “As the coronavirus crisis worsens, many elderly and vulnerable people in our communities will be forced to self-isolate. This will be a lonely time for many, and some may need help in receiving basic supplies.

“Officers of Brentford & Isleworth CLP Executive have agreed to support COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK to assist those who need it most in our community. There is a Hounslow-wide COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group on Facebook. Other groups our members may wish to support in the current crisis include Age Concern Chiswick and Hounslow FoodBox.”

The party chiefs also reached out as a point of support for members who may need help themselves.

To get involved search ‘Hounslow Covid-19 Mutual Aid’ on Facebook.

Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter

March 18, 2020

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