More than 1,500 residents in Tooting have joined together to help their neighbours out during the coronavirus crisis, doing everything from shopping to delivering board games, or even just having a chat.
Mhairi Cosgriff, 28, works as a lawyer, but is now also an Area Lead for the volunteer hub ‚ÄėTooting Together‚Äô set up by local MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan.
Now working from home, Mhairi says she has been able to get more involved in the community by managing a team of volunteers covering 25 roads in the area and helping to match volunteers to requests from residents.
She says the team is ‚Äúdefinitely getting busier.‚ÄĚ
Mhairi Cosgriff, Area Co-ordinator Tooting Together
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve had whole households, with people who are usually fit and healthy, but one might be showing symptoms or think they‚Äôve got it so they need help just getting food shops in.
‚ÄúWe also have a local guy suffering from MS, who needs regular help with shopping, so we‚Äôve set up rota to support him on a weekly basis for however long he needs it. We‚Äôve even had a request from nurses who needed help washing their uniforms. We‚Äôre here for anyone who has been affected and needs a bit of extra support,‚ÄĚ she said.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs really shown how many people are willing to step up in the community and help people who are vulnerable and need more assistance.‚ÄĚ
Stephen Matthews, 40, is a local youth worker turned Area Coordinator for Tooting Together.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: ‚ÄúObviously, with everything that‚Äôs happened, we‚Äôve had to close the youth centre. I‚Äôve got a lot of time on my hands at the moment and want to serve my community.‚ÄĚ
He says his team mainly focuses on picking up prescriptions, going shopping and having a chat with those who are isolating.
‚ÄúSome people have messaged saying they haven‚Äôt seen their neighbour for a few days, so we have been able to send a volunteer round to give them a knock and see if they‚Äôre ok, let them know we‚Äôre there, and pass on the number.
‚ÄúPeople are sharing board games if people are locked-in, and can‚Äôt get out to entertain the kids. It‚Äôs been really really good.‚ÄĚ
Stephen is also keen to emphasise the safeguarding measures put in place to protect people.
All requests are posted on the website or Facebook page, and volunteers can put themselves forward to help out.
Everything is documented to keep residents safe, and help organisers to analyse if any streets are getting particularly busy.
Stephen‚Äôs team always take pictures of the receipts and the shopping they leave outside the door. They take care to ensure nobody opens the door until the volunteer steps back to help maintain social distancing, and check-ins on neighbours are always done at least two metres away from the door.
For now, his team have stopped dog walking to make sure the volunteers can cover the essentials.
‚ÄúI think it is going to get busier,‚ÄĚ he warns.
‚ÄúEven though they said three weeks, I know we‚Äôre in this for a bit longer, I don‚Äôt want people getting fatigued or working too hard and seeing their own immune systems dropping.‚ÄĚ
For more complex cases requiring someone to enter the house, like an electrician or a plumber, or if someone is struggling to pay for food, Tooting Together signposts people to Wandsworth Council, which has recently set up their own helpline for this reason.
Stephen says volunteering is helping him to keep active and on top of his mental health.
‚ÄúWhen you look after 40 kids on a Friday, this is a walk in the park,‚ÄĚ he joked.
‚ÄúObviously, sometimes it gets you down a bit. If you are seeing people that need this help, it‚Äôs not nice to see people in these difficult situations. But then once you have a result, it‚Äôs amazing.
‚ÄúWe had a woman who went to deliver shopping for her dad but forgot to drop him off his paper. She lives about a two-and-a-half hour drive away. He was really upset, in these situations the smallest thing can do it.
‚ÄúBut one of our volunteers was able to drop one round and had a chat from the gate for half an hour. He was really happy and has been giving her a short call every evening now, and she drops him a paper every day. His closest relative is two-and-a half hours away, but now he has someone local who he knows he can call upon. It‚Äôs really good, it lifts my spirits a bit.
‚ÄúI have underlying anxiety, so actually being a part of this, keeping busy and seeing all this positivity is, on a personal level, keeping me in a good place,‚ÄĚ he said.
Speaking about the initiative, MP for Tooting Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said she was ‚Äúproud‚ÄĚ of Tooting‚Äôs ‚Äúcommunity cohesion.‚ÄĚ
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is the current Labour MP for Tooting
‚ÄúThese are very worrying times for our community, our country, and indeed for the whole world. The coronavirus crisis is extremely serious and our only priority must be protecting lives,‚ÄĚ she said.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs vitally important that we have a community focus ‚Äď we need to be ensuring that people‚Äôs mental health doesn‚Äôt suffer, that already vulnerable and lonely people aren‚Äôt any worse off, and that our emergency service workers can still get to work.
‚ÄúIn times like these, we all have to stick together as a community and help each other as much as we can. We will get through this together.‚ÄĚ
If you live in Tooting, Balham, Earlsfield or Furzedown and need help, or if you are interested in volunteering, you can find out more on Tooting Together‚Äôs website here and Facebook group here.
A local hotline number for those in need has also been set up, on 0808 168 5339.
To contact Wandsworth Council‚Äôs coronavirus hotline, call 0208 871 6555 or email email@example.com
Photo: Mhairi Cosgriff, Area Co-ordinator Tooting Together