Cllr Joe Porter is the Cabinet Member for Climate Change on Staffordshire Moorlands District Council.
We live in unprecedented times where our lives have been fundamentally changed, our personal freedoms have been restricted, and more people have needed a safety net than in years. Whilst the national media spread a lot of negative headlines around coronavirus, the situation on the ground is one of positive social action – a surge in community spirit, or a I see it, a resurgence of the ‘Big Society’.
I really believe in what David Cameron said in 2010: “The Big Society is about a huge culture change where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighbourhoods, in their workplace, don’t always turn to officials, local authorities, or central government, for answers to the problems they face, but instead feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities.”
Up and down the country, and in my community, we have witnessed the best of Cameron’s aspirations for a ‘Big Society’ in action. People have been selflessly setting up community support groups in their local communities to help elderly and vulnerable people get through this crisis. The national army of over 750,000 NHS Volunteer Responders and British Red Cross volunteers has also been on the frontline helping those who are in many cases suffering in silence.
In my own area in the Staffordshire Moorlands, it has been amazing to see self-starters establishing these groups from scratch and then spring into action – Surviving Together Leek – to name one great example. I do feel that the ingenuity and focus that people are applying to tackle our shared issues reflects the kind seen at great national crises of the past. No wonder this situation has been compared to the Second World War and the Blitz.
As Winston Churchill described the war in 1940, “This is no war of chieftains or of princes, of dynasties or national ambition; it is a war of peoples and of causes.” We are certainly engaged in a war, but this is a war against a silent and invisible killer.
That’s why, over the last few weeks, I have established a project called ‘Food for Endon’ to provide bags of fresh and locally grown fruit & veg to elderly and vulnerable people in the local area. Every Tuesday morning I collect the bags from Haregate Community Centre’s Community Hub who kindly provide them through local farmers and producers. They are sold for £3 each as the Council and various local councillors have helped to subsidise the cost of the bags each week. The bags contain eight different types of fruit & veg, depending on what is in season and I deliver them in person, following social distancing rules.
I also helped establish a network called ‘Help and Hope’ to spread positivity and connect people through online friendship. The network works with the two local churches – Endon St Luke’s Church and Endon Methodist Church – to provide volunteers to do weekly shopping, collect pharmacy prescriptions, and chat over the phone to those who are feeling lonely. We also have a Facebook group called ‘Surviving COVID19 – Endon’, which has gained over 300 members in just a few weeks and painted a rainbow of hope across our village.
By pulling together, we have seen what most characterises that wartime spirit and shown the best of being British. I hope that we continue to see remarkable examples of the heroic efforts to help us defeat this disease. Together we will win this war.