Meet three Community Heroes who are helping others

KIND and courageous across the UK are pulling together to do their bit to help during the coronavirus pandemic – from spreading joy and positivity to lending a helping hand to those in need.

Ruff sleepers get lockdown shelter

In times of trouble people need their best friends beside them, and that’s never more true than for the homeless community and their dogs.

So when, in March, some of London’s nearly 9,000 rough sleepers were offered hotel accommodation to escape the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, many were worried about leaving their canine companions behind.

“Homeless people’s dogs are their lifeline,” says Michelle Clark, who founded Dogs on the Streets (DOTS) four years ago.

The charity operates a mobile vet clinic for street dogs in London, offering check-ups, medication, leads, bowls, blankets and toys as well as a 24/7 freephone number for pets requiring urgent medical attention.

“When the country went into lockdown we were approached by local councils as some of the hotels didn’t accept dogs,” Michelle, 51, from London, explains.

“No problem – we’d just set up a 25-kennel sanctuary so we were able to tell rough sleepers that, while they stayed safe in hotels, we’d care for their pets. Still, saying goodbye to their companions was devastating for people. Their dogs are their company, love, loyalty and trust – their everything. Driving the dog away, I’d burst into tears.”

Six weeks into lockdown the owners are missing their dogs, but Michelle sends them daily pictures and videos to reassure them.

“Some of the dogs slept in the bottom of their owners’ sleeping bags so we bought sleeping bags for them to burrow into,” Michelle says. “Others preferred to be on top of duvets. Their kennels are heated and during the day we keep the dogs busy, playing in our three acres of grounds, so there’s no time to pine for their owners.”

One dog – Miss L, a young husky – is a case in point. Her owner was distraught when he said goodbye to her – they’d been together since she was eight weeks old – and he was worried about how she’d cope without him. But Michelle discovered she loves cheese, which helped gain her trust, and now Miss L is settled in, making friends with fellow lockdown pups.

Some homeless people, however, couldn’t face being parted from their canine companions so remained on the streets. Michelle and her team are there to support them too.

“We’re operating the mobile clinic as a food bank for dogs, and the 24/7 emergency line,” Michelle says. “We’ve had people in dire financial straits contact us saying they can’t afford to keep their dogs and we’ve organised food parcels so they can stay together.”

In the current crisis, working on the streets, Michelle and her volunteers are effectively on the front line. A medical supply company donated gloves and masks and Deborah Meaden sent hand sanitisers to help them.

Still, Michelle has been diagnosed with pneumonia, possibly Covid-19 related, and is recovering at home with her ex-street dog Brock by her side while her team continue DOTS’ work.

“I just want to get better and back out there, helping the homeless community,” Michelle says. “There will be some emotional reunions when this is over.”

A class act all round

When British schools went into Covid-19 lockdown, a nationwide network of teachers, including Sandra Obike, stepped up to support NHS heroes.

Sandra, who is head of design and technology at Swanlea School in east London, immediately put her skills and workspace to best use – first, sourcing spare unused personal protective equipment (PPE) that could be donated to a nearby major hospital, and then using her school design and technology (D&T) lab to create 100 brand new visors for key workers.

And she isn’t alone – D&T staff at more than 320 British schools are now collectively involved in the fight against Covid-19, manufacturing and donating more than 170,000 items of vital PPE including visors, goggles, scrubs, masks and more.

“We’ve been doing things since the very first week of lockdown, communicating using sites like Facebook, sharing resources and free design templates,” explains Sandra.

“I asked our school headteacher if we could use the materials, space and machinery, and she instantly said yes. I also had a contact at Royal London Hospital, and asked: ‘Can I help? Would it be useful to have some visors?’, and she jumped at the chance.

“I knew immediately that we had some unused PPE like goggles, aprons and gloves – so we sent that to the hospital at the start of April, so they were able to start using it as soon as possible.”

Sandra, her boyfriend and one of her D&T colleagues then set to work at school, creating new visors while safely observing social distancing. They used open-source design templates – provided for free by expert companies like Kitronik and Smoke & Mirrors, who’ve also been key to this Covid-19 effort – and their ingenuity with the materials they already had.

“We were working pretty much like an assembly line, cutting the material, sterilising the parts, assembling it all and then bagging everything for delivery,” says Sandra.

“As a teacher, I’m now working from home and interacting with students, but making visors was something I could do while still continuing my day-to-day job. I felt like it was something I could do in the interim, to keep key workers safe, while there was a shortage of PPE.”

It’s clear that Sandra is passionate about her D&T teaching profession: “We’re educating the engineers of the future,” she says.

There’s also no doubt that creating visors is for her a very personal response: “A lot of my family members and friends work within the NHS, as doctors and nurses,” she says. “My mum is retired, but still helping out in a care home. As technologists, we’re problem-solvers – we try to work around the issue, and find a way to do things. For instance, we’ve got two large-scale laser cutters at our school, which meant we could cut quite a bit in a short scale of time, and some places have used 3D printers – so you work to the best ability that you’ve got.”

Teamwork is at the heart of this story, too. This is about colleagues and collaborators, from dedicated D&T teachers to suppliers who donate materials free of charge.

“Social media has mobilised our effort, on a national scale,” says Sandra. “Where there is surplus, we’ll try to logistically pass it around the network across Britain. Seeing the sheer numbers of what people have done and contributed – that’s when it hits home how amazing this is.

“As a teacher, this is a small thing I can do, so that someone who’s potentially putting their life at risk can go into a safer situation at work, and do something big. Everyone is working together for that common goal. It goes to show how much we love the NHS, and how much we want to step out to support them.”

‘It gave me happy tears’

Big-hearted Brits are making a difference to other people’s lives every day in this time of crisis – and sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most.

Five-year-old Lucy Dawson has been busy delivering handmade paper flowers to her neighbours in Fakenham in Norfolk – leaving them with a note on their doorsteps in the hope of raising a smile and lifting people’s spirits during the lockdown.

“I learnt to make the paper flowers at my breakfast and after-school club before the lockdown. I wanted to cheer people up,” Lucy says.

Her parents, Shelley, 33, and Marc, 46, couldn’t be prouder of their daughter, who’s received chocolate and cards from grateful neighbours.

Lucy says: “I felt happy and proud that I helped to cheer people up. It gave me happy tears.”

Mum Shelley says: “Lucy is creative and loves crafting. She suggested leaving the flowers on doorsteps with a note as a little surprise.”

For many neighbours, locked down until the coronavirus has passed, a surprise gift has been the highlight of their day.

Lucy and her mum have been careful to observe social distancing and to make the doorstep deliveries during their daily exercise session, using plenty of hand sanitising gel along the way.

Shelley says: “She’s a caring little girl. Her grandad Andrew, who’s 73, lives next door and we can’t see him at the moment. So she leaves handmade gifts on his doorstep because she misses him so much.”

One note from a neighbour was wrapped around a chocolate bar, and said: “This is just a little thank you from us, it made us smile and we really needed that today.”

Dad Marc adds: “We’re extremely proud of what Lucy has done for her neighbours. The look on her face when she received the thank you gifts and notes is something me and Shelley will never forget.”

A neighbour who works as an A&E nurse in King’s Lynn was especially touched when she discovered Lucy’s flowers on her doorstep. She and her family wrote a note of thanks.

The Dawsons needed something to feel good about. Shelley was meant to start a new job as a commercial property manager this month but it fell through because of the coronavirus crisis, while Marc has been furloughed from his job as a mechanical supervisor.

“We’re busy home schooling and trying to keep Lucy busy,” he says. “She’s an only child and I think she’s getting a bit bored! She misses her friends but she’s working hard at her reading, writing and maths – and she and I love to play football in the garden.”

The Dawsons are Norwich City fans, so they were delighted when Lucy won a Community Hero award from the club recently for her flower initiative.

And she’s not stopping there. Lucy’s planning to leave handmade cards on neighbours’ doorsteps next.

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