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COVID-19 in Slough and Windsor – one year on

Next week marks a year since the country entered into its first COVID-19 lockdown. As we approach 12 months since the pandemic began to take hold of our freedoms, reporter Kieran Bell spoke to some of the volunteers who have formed an army of people helping others out during the crisis.

It has been nearly a year since our lives changed dramatically.

Tuesday, March 23 will mark the anniversary of the day Boris Johnson told the nation to ‘stay at home’ for the first time as coronavirus spread rapidly across the country.

At this stage last year, countries around the world closed schools, shops and pubs as infection rates climbed, and it was not long before the UK followed suit.

Fast forward 12 months, and many of the restrictions we have had to endure over the past year are back in force.

We were slowly given some freedoms over the summer, before a second wave of COVID-19 plunged the country back into lockdown again in November and January.

Amongst all the sadness as the pandemic approaches an unwanted milestone, there have been tales of kindness.

And this was certainly the case for Slough and Windsor, whose community groups and charities stepped up to act as a beacon of light during what is, for so many people, a lonely time.

The West Windsor Hub was created on March 25, 2020 to respond to the challenges of the pandemic.

In the first lockdown it recruited up to 50 volunteers to help with everyday tasks for people in need of help.

Although this number has now dropped to about 16, the remaining cohort are still forming a strong team assisting people in West Windsor with shopping, prescription collections and phone calls.

It soon became apparent as the lockdown took hold that there were families struggling financially, and so the hub also stepped in and worked alongside Dedworth Foodshare to offer them food support and surplus items.

The group has not done this work unaided – grants totaling £12,500 were provided to the team from various organisations, including the Louis Baylis Trust, and the Windsor and Maidenhead council.

During the period from its launch until December 2020, the Hub and its volunteers completed nearly 6,500 tasks.

“This is phenomenal and testament to the community spirit that exists in Windsor between residents, local businesses and one another,” said Carole Da Costa, chairwoman of the hub and also a Windsor councillor for the West Windsor Residents’ Association.

Many community groups are looking to carry on their operations post-COVID, and Carole is confident this will also be the case for the hub.

There are plans to become a registered charity, with an application form already sent to the Charities Commission.

“Job clubs, CV writing and supporting people to become work-ready are all areas that the hub could become involved in as the community recovers from COVID-19,” she said.

“There will always be a need and vulnerable individuals and families that will need support.

“As chair, I myself would like to see a program that looks to enable our clients to become independent and self-sustaining.

“As the proverb goes, “If you give a man a fish, he eats one meal. If you teach a man to fish, he can feed himself.”

The volunteer effort in Slough has also been in full force, benefiting a town which has been one of the hardest hit by the virus in the country.

Sikh humanitarian charity Khalsa Aid was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in January and well-known for travelling to Kent to feed stranded lorry drivers whilst the UK-France border was closed over virus variant fears.

Elsewhere, teenagers from youth charity Aik Saath supported the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine at the Salt Hill Activity Centre.

Other projects were also set up in the town, including #OneSlough, to assist vulnerable residents during the crisis, while the Slough Foodbank expanded its distribution to offer more support for those going hungry.

Key workers on the frontline during the pandemic were not forgotten, with thousands of bottles of water supplied to Wexham Park Hospital staff by Feed the Soul, another Slough charity, in May 2020.

“They need to rehydrate regularly,” chairman David Camp said at the time. “We do it because we think it is the right thing to do.”

The acts of goodwill continued throughout the strange 12 months we have all endured, and as very small steps are taken out of this latest lockdown, the vaccine rollout is providing hope.

More than 24.5million people have now received their first dose of a vaccine across the country, with 1,663,646 having had their second jab.

After months of daily figures telling us how many people we have lost to COVID, these new statistics paint a more positive picture – a route out of the crisis.

And even as people roll up their sleeves to get the jab, volunteers will not be putting down their food parcels quite yet.

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