Covid A Year On: Harpenden Trust's crucial community role during pandemic

A Harpenden Trust volunteer at the vaccination centre at Harpenden Public Halls.

A Harpenden Trust volunteer at the vaccination centre at Harpenden Public Halls - Credit: Rosemary Ross, H&DLHS

Over the past year, the Harpenden Trust has been at the heart of supporting the rapidly evolving needs of the community through the trials and tribulations of coronavirus.

These include setting up the Harpenden Cares Contact Centre to answer over 2,000 calls for Covid-19 pandemic support and assisting over 12 local GP practices with delivering oxygen monitors to local residents.

In addition, the trust has provided financial and practical support to over 565 local families, utility grants to over 80 local residents on low pensions and given befriending support to over 70 people in need of it – a number that continues to rise.

One of the other key aspects of the trust has been its befriending service, which saw a four-fold increase during the first lockdown as isolated people sought companionship.

The team set up a 17-strong socially distanced call centre which has to date received over 2,000 calls for support from Harpenden residents. 

Befriendly team leader Sally Arbuthnott explained: “We don’t see befriending as a temporary solution, we are connecting people for lasting friendships. It's not only those befriended who benefit, it offers the opportunity to meet people with years of experience, with different ideas and views on life. We work not only to support people, but match them through hobbies or mutual interests.”  

Recent matches have included matching a pair with a love of knitting and crochet respectively, a fitness fanatic with a resident keen on walking and a WWII veteran with a local who has a keen interest in that period.

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As well as befriending, the call centre received requests covering shopping, prescriptions, financial support and many other ad hoc issues, which the team worked closely with The Salvation Army and Bethany Church to address.

Pat Ring, people director at The Harpenden Trust, who helped spearhead the call centre initiative, was later awarded the British Empire Medal for services to the community in Harpenden during COVID-19. 

Trust chairman Richard Nichols  said: “There are a huge number of unsung heroes right across The Harpenden Trust – all those volunteers who have made such an exceptional contribution across our local community in a year when many sought our support."

Despite the lockdown restrictions impacting on traditional fundraising, the local community donated £65,000 for the Harpenden Trust’s annual Christmas Appeal – the most ever raised.

Richard said: "I would like to sincerely thank the Harpenden community for their extraordinary generosity. To find out that our total for this year is more than we have ever raised before in an appeal, in a year which has been difficult for so many, is incredible. The money raised will make a real difference to supporting those most in need in our community.”

The trust is also currently playing a key role in the community in supporting the local GPs surgeries in organising the roll out of Covid-19 vaccinations in Harpenden, after receiving more than 600 offers of assistance in just one week.

Volunteer roles have been broad, covering areas such as both indoor and outdoor marshalling, administration support at the main entrance desk and staffing the post-vaccination observation room.

Richard added: “It has been such an amazing community response and a joy to have been part of. On behalf of the Harpenden Trust, I would like to say a big thank you to the huge number of local residents who stepped forward following our appeal for help to support the vaccination process in Harpenden.

"It has been a huge project to manage but has been made substantially easier with the help of our fantastic volunteers, both new and old. We are so pleased to have played our small part in supporting our local GP practices and local residents through this critical period.”