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Abingdon Community Response Team

ACR our Story

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Hundreds of Abingdon residents stepped forward to offer help as the town locked down, running more than 3,000 errands for neighbours in the first four months of the pandemic.
As the Government urged people to stay home, protect the NHS, save lives, Abingdon pulled together volunteers offering neighbour to neighbour support and Abingdon Community Response was formed.

More than 400 people across the town heeded a call to ensure that no-one was left behind – wanting for food, medicines, or simply a friendly chat.
Between them they provided the equivalent of 336 days volunteering, winning praise from the deputy lieutenant of Oxfordshire, the town’s mayor and grateful families and residents. “A million thank-yous are not enough” said one.

Felicity Dick, deputy lieutenant of Oxfordshire, said: “I would really like to pass on the thanks of the Lieutenancy and actually on behalf of all the people in Abingdon for the brilliant job that has been done and the support that has been given to so many in the town.
“As the Mayor said, he is certain that this support and care has not only helped people who have been the hardest-hit and most isolated by the pandemic but also in some cases saved lives. Thank you all.”

The volunteers came together as Abingdon Community Response, a group set up in mid-February 2020 in the wake of a Facebook post by Sarah Anthony who lives in the town.
As she watched the news of the developing pandemic Sarah worried that some people would be stuck at home with no-one to help them.
She posted her concerns on Abingdon Facebook pages to see if anyone wanted to help.  “Little did I know,” she said.

It soon became clear how strong the sense of community was in Abingdon as she was flooded with offers, many from people still working, others from those who had been furloughed. Friendships were forged, strengths drawn on, tasks allocated and plans drawn up and put into action.
“We came together as a bunch of people who knew there was a lot of love in this town and that people would look out for each other, but wanted to make sure that every single person in Abingdon could get help if they needed it,” said Sarah.

As the scheme gained momentum, Abingdon was divided into areas and 30 volunteer neighbourhood co-ordinators appointed to support street volunteers.
Some 15,000 postcards were delivered by volunteers throughout the town in March 2020 informing residents about Abingdon Community Response and who their local street contact was.
The group worked closely with Abingdon Town Council, which funded the distinctive hi-vis jackets worn by volunteers and provided hand sanitiser for them.
Links were also forged with The  Community Hub at the Vale of the White Horse district council, Abingdon Foodbank, AbiMeds prescription service, medical surgeries and Citizens Advice Bureau.
Supermarkets throughout the town went out their way to ensure volunteers had priority access when running errands.
Requests ranged from picking up a prescription for an eight-week old baby to shopping for a 98-year-old. But they did not just come from within the town.  News of what townspeople were doing for each other soon spread far and wide.

A son messaged the group from Bristol asking if shopping could be done for his elderly father in isolation awaiting radiotherapy. A daughter in Austria also contacted the volunteers asking for help.  Closer to home, a doctor asked for a prescription to be delivered within an hour.
Initial requests came from the postcards and The Vale Hub while others were funnelled through the group’s Facebook page, email account and website.
Technology played a key part in the smooth running of the group, with meetings via Zoom and volunteers contacting each other via specially formed WhatsApp groups.

The volunteers in their hi-vis jackets were often seen out and about shopping, picking up prescriptions, offering a friendly chat or even dog walking.
Friendships were forged across generations as help was requested and provided. Streets were mobilised and went far and above what had been previously done, organising socially-distanced ventures on top of the weekly Thursday clap for key workers. 

Requests for help peaked in the first three months of the pandemic, but volunteers remained on standby, providing regular help and support.
And said Sarah: “What an amazing town to live where so many people want to love their neighbours.  My mind is blown. I can’t believe what has been achieved. You rock Abingdon!”

Abingdon Community Response chose to remain a group of willing volunteers rather than become an organisation. It received no outside funding, other than from Abingdon Town Council for hi-vis jackets plus gifts in kind such as free printing of postcards by Hobs Reprographics, Abingdon

It only stopped taking on new requests in April 2021 – more than a year after the group was set up —when lockdown restrictions eased. Having set up the group, Sarah stepped back as project leader in the summer of 2020, leaving a key role to be played by Julie Kemp-Harper, steering group chair and one of the founding team members who coordinated volunteers. Julie said:“It’s been a joy to be part of this project.

“ There is no doubt that we provided much-needed support at a critical time and the legacy in terms of friendships built between neighbours and volunteers will continue for years to come. If you ran errands in your street or were one of the many volunteer organisers behind the scenes thank you for stepping forwards and saying ‘I’ll do it’. “

Her sentiments were echoed by families of those who have benefited: “Well done Abingdon,” said one daughter. “You’ve been a real-life saver, doing shopping for my elderly father because I live too far away. Thanks a million.”

While another said: “I think you are all fantastic and deserve more than a handclap: real lifesavers.  A million thank-yous are not enough really.”

Abingdon Community Response  has been  presented with a High Sherriff Award in recognition of great and valuable services to the community.

The award was presented by Amanda Ponsonby, High Sheriff, in the Abbey grounds on Tuesday 30th March.


Workhouse Estate story

Residents of Abingdon’s Workhouse Estate came together in a great show of community spirit during lockdown.

The 60 houses, on the site where the workhouse stood until the mid-1930s, made vital PPE, set up flour, rice and plant hubs and came together for a socially-distanced VE Day commemoration in their front gardens and drives.

Every Thursday renowned jazz saxophonist George Haslam played for them during the Clap for Carers from a repertoire including Over the Rainbow and Amazing Grace.   (note: pics available of George)

The houses on Abbott Road, Thesiger Road and 4 – 42 Oxford Road have long held their own identity because of their location but were brought together again by the Community Response group.

Anne Matthews,  an ACR street contact along with Rhonda Oliver for the Workhouse Estate, said: “The response team was absolutely fantastic. I can’t speak highly enough of it. They are all volunteers, some are working, they often have children. It’s been quite remarkable.

The Workhouse Estate chats via a 100-strong WhatApps group. There was also a WhatsApp creative group and once a week expert quilter Judy Harris displayed a different quilt in her windows. The PPE WhatsApp group worked  night and day and made more than 500 masks. 

The main WhatsApp group organised the VE day commemorations. Bunting was hung, cakes baked and toasts made in English, French, German, Polish and Italian. All at the approved social distance.

Anne, who has lived on the estate with husband Richard since the 1970s, said: “There is great community spirit. What better way could there be to show Abingdon off better.

“Everything is different now but this is a fantastic way of spreading community solidarity.”

 

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