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IN the space of just a few short weeks, the Blandford Covic-19 community help group was developed not only on Facebook but also with a call centre based at Blandford Youth and Community Centre, a helpline (01258 452 361) and website at https://www.blandfordc19community.com/

Ben Fryer, who early in March got together with a group of five mums, including his fiancée Laura Rosam with whom he runs a local  pet care and dog walking business, to launch the helpline said: “First and foremost, we just want to say a massive thank you to all the incredible volunteers in and around Blandford without whom none of it would have been possible.

“We may have provided a focus for people to request and offer help, but the helpline is being manned by a team of 16 community volunteers who offered their spare time to take phone calls Monday to Saturday each week.”

The team initially involved and still working tirelessly to administer the Covid19 support group at the same time as being full time mums and working their day jobs were Laura Rosam, Lauren Hussey, Charlotte Pateman, Emma Whitcher and Paula Jenner.

The Facebook group very quickly grew in popularity and soon hit 3500 members, with hundreds of offers of incredible support from the community of people wanting to volunteer to help those in isolation with shopping and prescription collections/deliveries, dog walking and other tasks.

It evolved into much more than just a place to request help, with people asking questions about local shops, sharing ideas for isolation activities, education material for help with home schooling.

“It was fantastic to see a real community forum of people genuinely trying to help each other,” said Ben.

“As the weeks went on, we started to notice certain pinch points that needed addressing in the community, for example, shop times always changing and prescription collections becoming very difficult. We focused our attention on these to address them and improve everyone’s day to day life in and already difficult time.“

One of the volunteers joining the team, Tom Gallagher, worked with the council and the local chemists to setup the Blandford Covid19 community helpline which he now co-ordinates with Barry Sonico, and which has been a huge factor in reducing the chemist queues in Blandford, ensuring people can now get their prescriptions delivered to their door.

It provided an invaluable extension to the Facebook page, offering a number to call and request help for those not on the internet or Facebook.

The call centre opened on April 4, and in its first two weeks its 16 volunteers took 403 calls from the community asking for help and arrange 165 prescription deliveries to be made on behalf of Boots, a total of 250 hours of volunteering.

“After the successful launch of the helpline, we began to focus on the website. We were beginning to notice repetition of certain requests for shop opening times and advice on prescription collections. It became clear that information was easily getting lost in the news feed of the Facebook group. The creation of the Blandford C19 community support website was the most logical step,  allowing us to pull all the useful information together in one easy to access location, making it a lot easier for the community to navigate to what they needed help with, how to become a volunteer or simply finding local shops/businesses/pharmacy/bank opening times.

The website was launched on April 17, with over 3000 site visits in the first three days, and further information and support will be added over the coming weeks.