Northern Soul and People’s Powerhouse are continuing our partnership to share good new stories about businesses, people and communities coming together in the North of England during the COVID-19 crisis. As the country begins to loosen lockdown restrictions, we’re talking to Northerners doing excellent work across the region.
This week, we chat to Denise Slicock, a volunteer at Lend a Hand in Horwich, a Connection Hub which was set up in Bolton at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic for anyone wanting to help those who need some assistance.
Northern Soul: What inspired you to start Lend a Hand Horwich?
Denise Slicock: It’s the little things. Like many when COVID-19 hit, I wanted to do my bit and so I set up Lend a Hand on March 20, just a few days before the official national lockdown. For me, COVID-19 could be totally life-changing as my husband suffers from a serious lung condition. This meant that he was placed in shielded isolation along with me as his full-time carer.
As the pandemic continued to spread, everyone was going through the greatest threat to normal everyday life as we knew it. The situation was worrying for ordinary folk who were feeling that they were just being left to get on with it and there didn’t seem to be any help at grassroots level.
Due to being shielded, I understood the effect COVID-19 was having and, although I couldn’t actually help on the streets, I could help in another way by bringing people together and, so, Lend a Hand was born. Using social media and lots of amazing people who volunteered, we hit the ground running. I produced a simple leaflet for people to share with their neighbours and Lend a Hand started going shopping, picking up prescriptions, walking dogs and just doing little things within a few days.
DS: One of the major challenges for most people was simply going shopping. At the start of the pandemic, panic buying emptied the supermarket shelves and staples such as toilet roll, hand soap, flour, eggs and pasta were difficult to locate, especially for our vulnerable and elderly folk. They were advised to get online delivery slots, which were difficult enough as not everyone is internet savvy, but the supermarkets had a three-week wait.
People were feeling desperate. A mum on two weeks isolation with her husband and three children contacted Lend a Hand, crying because she couldn’t get an online delivery, but we arranged a volunteer to do her shopping and drop it off for her which was brilliant. I just don’t want anyone to worry or feel like they are on their own. Together we can beat this.
NS: How has the community been affected by the crisis?
DS: The community was greatly affected by the crisis and, initially, many residents were worried as there was little information on what to do. I wanted to make sure people didn’t feel alone and isolated, so Lend a Hand put a call out for everyone to start looking out for the people right on their own doorstep, to check on their neighbours to make sure they were OK and, if they needed any help, to get in touch.
It was heartbreaking to hear so many stories from families who had no money to buy food because their benefits hadn’t come through, or local business owners who were at risk of losing everything. Lend a Hand also worked with Bolton Homeless Aid who delivered food parcels to struggling families.
DS: We’re all made of tough stuff in Bolton and the community soon started to come together. We all supported each other. Our amazing volunteers are truly incredible and we do everything for free from shopping, collecting prescriptions and organising transport for hospital appointments to giving dogs some much-needed exercise while their owners were shielding.
Lend a Hand saw members start baking cup cakes and dropping them on doorsteps, recipes and book shares were set up, bedding was collected for sewing groups who began to make scrubs, craft groups were started and links for kids stuff were shared. There were also virtual nights out with quizzes and live theatre and concerts streamed every weekend.
Another important part of Lend a Hand is to get everyone involved and to be a part of something, so we started a fortnightly collection for the local food bank and if anyone wants to donate, we pick it up. Members asked if we could organise a collection to give thanks to a local greengrocer for delivering during the pandemic and raised enough money to buy them some flowers and cakes which was no easy task in lockdown. Lend a Hand also helped to organise an afternoon tea for a lady who wanted surprise her dad for his birthday. There are lots more things going on and we are currently organising a collection of towels, bedding, clothes and toys for a family who lost everything in a fire.
NS: Have you been surprised by the reaction to your work during this time?
DS: I’m extremely proud of Lend a Hand and truly amazed at the response we’ve had. We’re just doing little things, but they mean so much. There have been so many wonderful comments from people I’ve never met ringing up saying Lend a Hand “has been a lifeline” or that they “just didn’t know where to turn” and “thank you for being there”. Even our lovely volunteers have said they feel so happy to be involved and Lend a Hand just wouldn’t be anything without the support of the marvellous people from all walks of life who have given their time to help. There are so many, but I could not miss mentioning Sharon Sharrocks, Jayne Littler, Andrea Allott, Hannah Yates, Sue Dearden, Sarah Martin, Lisa Southworth, Andy Ferrier, Stuart Sharrocks, David Kirk, Paul Daley and Paul Nelson. Plus, all the wonderful members of Lend a Hand who are the real heroes.
NS: What does the loosening of lockdown restrictions mean to your organisation and how will you approach these new challenges?
DS: Currently in Bolton, we have a spike in COVID-19 cases, so there hasn’t really been a loosening of restrictions. However, our members have asked Lend a Hand to carry on and that’s what I would like to do.
NS: What’s the most positive moment/thing you’ve experienced during the crisis?
DS: Lend a Hand has helped so many people. In fact, it’s been a massive help to me, too, even just knowing that Lend a Hand is helping to make a difference.