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Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

As Suffolk County Council contributed £60,000 to support food banks, Cabinet Member, Paul West said:

“This donation is a small part of the extremely valuable work being done in our communities, helping the most vulnerable in our neighbourhoods.”

With supermarket shelves decimated, shoppers are unable to make their own contributions to food banks; retailers’ limits on how many items in any product range can be purchased doesn’t appear to be having much of an impact: cleaning products, flour, pasta, catfood (and dogfood), fruit and veg, meat and just about anything else is in short supply.

But, I did manage to get a couple of packs of sultanas for my blackbirds, which queue up for them every morning, as well as a pack of 4 tinned tomatoes, two bottles of wine, and a loaf of bread at Tesco earlier this week!

A staff member at another supermarket told me that it is the same people who turn up every day, as the delivery vans unload, to strip the shelves – but no-one appears to have any authority to stop this selfish behaviour.

Yet could it be part of a gang culture, targeting vulnerable people by offering to do their shopping and overcharging for the privilege?

National Trading Standards have identified a range of unscrupulous scams in particular arising from the Coronavirus crisis. It urges members of the public to join together to stamp it out by signing up for an online training course. It is a growing problem at any time, with 53 per cent of the over 65s targeted, with averages losses of £3,000, costing the national economy between £5 billion and £10 billion annually, but only five per cent of cases reported to the Police.

Scammers make contact by telephone, email or on the doorstep, with issues of special concern in the current crisis:

  • Selling virus testing kits (which are actually only available via the NHS)
  • Selling vaccines (which are not yet available)
  • Offering overpriced fake goods, i.e. anti-bacterial products
  • Offering to do shopping or collect medication
  • House cleaning
  • Impersonating charity representatives to gain credibility and, potentially, access.

National Trading Standards warn people to only purchase from a legitimate retailer, saying that only criminals would try to panic people into parting with their money, and anyone representing a charity would have an identity card. No-one should ever allow strangers doorstepping them with offers of services (or building works) into their homes.

There is a problem with those who value their independence and don’t want to bother friends or family, seeking their help and advice at this difficult time; others may feel isolated, without a support network, so fall victim to such ruses.

No-one wants to be thought nosey and interfering by keeping an eye on our neighbours, but it is essential. A 90-year-old, renowned for her independence, refused any help from a mutual friend living in the same village, who became concerned when she didn’t answer phone calls, or emails (she is very IT efficient), nor answer the door, so another neighbour, with a key to the property, was persuaded to use it. He found her on the floor, having fallen and been unable to get up; paramedics took her to hospital, where she remains. And, yes, a 90-year-old occupying a hospital bed at a time of the pandemic when there are questions about “sacrificing the old to save the young”.

Yet, right up to the present, she has been a guide at an important regional museum for more than 20 years – one of the millions of elderly volunteers across the country, who help society to function. They organise Neighbourhood Watch, fetes, coffee mornings, and litter picks, man libraries, food banks and tourism centres, volunteer at The National Trust working in their cafes and gift shops, help at wildlife sanctuaries and protecting rural landscapes, coach youngsters in sport, the Arts and Music, hold Church services, and so much more. Many are also school governors and about 50 per cent of councillors are retired, bringing years of valuable experience to public services. Grandparents look after grandchildren whilst their parents are at work.

So, think twice before writing older people off; without them, communities would be decimated.

When this crisis is over, we must celebrate those who have worked so selflessly to keep us safe and preserve life: not just in the NHS, but right across the public sector and so much of the private sector, with village shops, and pubs, rising to the challenge to deliver food and other essentials across their immediate and wider community.

So, a big thank you to all those who look out for each other, and to the 700,000 plus volunteers who have signed up to support the NHS. The British are known for their reserve, but we are a generous nation and should take pride in doing our best.

Inevitably, there are lessons to be learnt, with a detailed review and planning for responses to similar events in the future, but we should not lose sight of how people from all walks of life came together. This will be especially important as the economy and people’s finances recover.

There is already evidence that major projects are on temporary hold: after eight years’ consultation, the application for the new nuclear development at Sizewell C in Suffolk, due to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate at the end of March, has been deferred. It would provide an estimated 5,000 new jobs, which will be much-needed in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, farmers are concerned about a lack of workers to pick and pack fruit and veg in the coming months if the lockdown continues and Eastern Europeans aren’t available. An opportunity for young people with nothing else to do? Not that long ago, they took pride in joining others from all walks of life to earn a few quid during the long summer holiday before starting at, or returning to, university. Employers want people who can communicate, so this would be part of the learning experience benefiting future careers, as well as helping with college expenses.

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