As so often happens a good idea began in a dream.
In the middle of March, 2020, the Reverend Canon Simon Butler of St. Mary’s Battersea woke up from a dream about angels. “Not angels as ‘messengers’,” he says, “but angels as ‘helpers.’”
“With the Coronavirus lockdown imminent, we knew difficult times lay ahead,” says Rev. Butler, “and that the local people in Battersea would need help.”
Three days later, and a week before lockdown, Rev. Butler gathered together Father Hugh Preston of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church and Aaron Barbour, Director of the Katherine Low Settlement. Together this alliance established the “Coronavirus Angels Battersea”.
The mission was simple and clear: help people who need help.
By the weekend, Coronavirus Angels were distributing information flyers to 15,000 Battersea residents.
“Working as a team worked well,” says volunteer, Peta Law, who, with her son Freddie Law, 18, and her daughter, Grace Law, 16, helped distribute leaflets.
By the next day, the dedicated telephone number was getting calls and the work of providing help to local residents began.
Residents like 80-year-old James Hunter who called “desperate for help. My children live in Bath and Brighton, and it was so very difficult to get my shopping done.” He was matched with volunteer, Sonia Seder, “who has truly been an angel” according to Hunter. “She goes out and sends me texts and photos of what is on the shelves, to make sure I get what I want. She’s even arranged telephone banking for me. It really is as if she was sent by God just out of the blue.”
“I am going to need help for a long time,” Hunter explains. “I think it is such a wonderful illustration of what can happen when two different churches and the community get together, I mean I’m absolutely non-denominational. It’s been such a help.”
After leafleting, Freddie Law decided to do more volunteering and tracked down and delivered schoolbooks to a local Year 5 student as well as doing shopping for a woman who had recently had surgery.
“She’s absolutely lovely and when I came to get her list,” says Freddie, “we joked how times had changed, here she was opening up the door and there I was wearing a mask.”
Freddie told his mother, Peta, how this chance to help meant a lot to him, because now, in the years to come, he will look back and know he “made a difference, even if it was a small one.”
“It isn’t about doing good to be good, says his mother, Peta Law, “but about the whole community doing something together.”
But one community need that has become clearly evident in Battersea is the need for ‘befriending.’ To meet this demand the Coronavirus Angels have trained over 50 volunteers for their telephone-befriending program – a program they hope to carry out far into the future.
Now, eight weeks later, and with the easing of lockdown coming into sight, the Coronavirus Angels service has grown into a group of 425 volunteers. The initiative has helped over 350 people with shopping, food, getting prescriptions and other essentials.
The founders of Coronavirus Angels intend to continue the clearly needed service. Covid-19 has been a catalyst and kickstarted a now obvious and ongoing requirement to provide help throughout the community, whether people are house-bound, disabled, older or disadvantaged in some other way.
“Our goal,” says Father David O’Malley of Sacred Heart, “is to keep building on what we have shared and learned, now and well beyond Coronavirus.”
Simple conversations can make a difference. One Coronavirus Angel conversation led to Katherine Low Settlement loaning three iPads to Battersea’s Meadbank Nursing home, to help the residents stay in touch with their loved ones. The Katherine Low Settlement then used its fundraising expertise to raise £15,000 pounds to keep the program going.
“For me it has been the outpouring of care, compassion and love,” says Aaron Barbour, Director of the Katherine Low Settlement, “I know that sounds over the top, but it has been quite phenomenal, the rolling up of the sleeves and this spirit of national emergency and the fact we need to help people.”
By using pre-established connections the Coronavirus Angels have been able to work with Wandsworth Council, Wandsworth Foodbank, Waste not Want not, Women of Wandsworth, Dons Local Action Group and the Kambala Estate Residents Association.
And it looks like it won’t end there.
Although the lockdown looks set to relax in the not-too-distant future, the connections and friendships Coronavirus Angels has formed look set to continue.
“It’s a myth, a cultural myth,” says Father David, “that any single individual can do it all on their own, we need one another, we are all interdependent. It has been wonderful to see people slow down, have time for one another, to smile and get to know one another. We want Coronavirus Angels to continue to do this work well into the future.”
Coronavirus Angels work seven days a week (including bank holidays). Volunteers can help with shopping, prescription collection, arrangement of food parcels and other administrative matters, provide a listening ear and a befriending service.
Call the dedicated Coronavirus Angels number 07394 856 557
or email: [email protected]