Covid: Positive stories you've missed from a year of lockdowns

Buddy the border collie (main) has been helping people across Gloucestershire, while Sophie O'Connor (inset) has gone beyond the call of duty in her role as day centre manager for the elderly. Credit: The Kennel Club Charitable Trust/ Age Concern Central Lancashire
  • By ITV News Multimedia Producer Charlie Bayliss

Coronavirus lockdowns have been an unwelcome feature of the past 12 months, especially for those most vulnerable in the UK.

Families across the country have been ripped apart by the effects of Covid-19, with many losing loved ones and others losing their livelihoods.

But amid the sadness and sorrow, Britons have come together during some of the most arduous times this country has ever faced.

ITV News spoke to charities, businesses and individuals who have made a difference to their local area, and how their selfless actions have brought joy to an otherwise miserable year.

Puppy love

Lockdown has been particularly difficult for disadvantaged young people who struggle with social skills.

Told by the government to stay at home, the lack of social interaction risked exacerbating their anxiety and depression.

The Kennel Club Charitable Trust helped to step in and offer its support to Young Gloucestershire, another charity helping youths acquire the social skills they need to excel in life.

Buddy the border collie has been helping young people in Gloucestershire throughout lockdown. Credit: Kennel Club

Buddy, the community therapy dog, helped fill a void left by lockdown, providing one-to-one sessions with those most in need.

Tom Saunders, operational manager at Young Gloucestershire, said the sessions with the two-year-old border collie have been priceless.

He said: “Vanessa, the community dog handler, has been a constant throughout the whole of the lockdowns.

“She works with young people who are struggling, while some just want a bit of intervention. A lot of what is offered is targeted at trying to help them with a certain specific issue, but with Vanessa it’s often just about trying to help.

“No-one is judging them, they just have a dog to work with to try and work through commands and tricks.

“We didn’t think something like this would happen but its gone so well.”

Throughout the course of the pandemic, Mr Saunders estimates that Buddy has helped between 30 to 40 young people with their social skills.

“We’ve noticed a lot of young people have come in with reduced levels of confidence and we’ve noticed the first session or two, they are finding it quite hard just to talk to Vanessa, let alone be in a room in a strange building.

Buddy is a two year old border collie. Credit: Kennel Club

“But as the weeks go on, the change is massive and it’s so impressive for what is just a five hour course.

“A lot of them are able to converse again. If they’d have been locked in their rooms due to Covid, it would have been hard to move away from that.

He added: “A lot of them are on other programmes, but this has been a really nice add-on.

“A lot of the young people who have been attached to other services come back to Vanessa and say ‘wow, I’ve noticed the difference that this has had.’”

‘Thieves couldn’t stop us feeding those in need’

Like many hospitality businesses in the UK, the Hidden Bakery in Nottinghamshire has had a difficult year.

The uncertainty of lockdowns and dip in revenue has been a nightmare for small business owners, but owner Heidi Mather didn’t let that stop her from feeding schoolchildren in need of free school meals.

Inspired by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign last summer, Ms Mather helped feed more than 50 vulnerable children a day last year.

The Hidden Bakery donated free school meals to children during the summer holidays. Credit: The Hidden Bakery

She said: “We put a shoutout to our Facebook following after what Marcus Rashford said, asking for anyone if they had spare crisps or fruit, while we made the sandwiches and then put out picnic bags.

“Lots of customers donated drinks, fruits and other bits. We did as much as we could do and it was lovely. It was a real community spirit, so we can’t take all the credit.”

Ms Mather left the lunches outside her shop, urging parents and children to help themselves to what ever they needed.

“I think they were just thankful that we’d even thought of doing it, and that we made the effort during a pandemic as well,” she said.

“All hospitality is struggling in one way or another, and they were happy that someone had gone above and beyond for them.”

Heidi Mather (pictured) was inspired by Marcus Rashford's campaign and decided to help provide free school meals during lockdown. Credit: The Hidden Bakery

But Ms Mather’s act of generosity was nearly derailed after the shop was burgled, with thieves making off with all the donated food that was going to make up the picnic bags.

“Somebody broke in through the back window, they took all our spirits, chocolate, phones. We’d already taken all the donations for the school meals - right in the middle of Covid and when we’re trying to do something good.

“People found out, and I was obviously in tears that morning, but two hours after we put the callout on social media, people were delivering shopping bags full of stuff for us to give away and they were saying ‘keep going, you can do it.’ It was amazing.”

Despite the ordeal of being burgled, Ms Mather was delighted she could help make a difference to her local community.

Packed lunches were left outside the Hidden Bakery for children to collect. Credit: The Hidden Bakery

She added: “We were so glad that we did it. Two of the girls who had the packed lunches tried to give us a pound of their pocket money and I had a cry because it was so nice. I wouldn’t take, I said they should have it. It was just lovely.”

Answering the call for help

Sophie O’Connor is one helper who gone above the call of duty during the pandemic.

Prior to lockdown, Ms O’Connor’s role as support manager at Age Concern Central Lancashire’s day centres saw her provide support to older people with dementia and other cognitive needs.

Sophie O'Connor made it her personal mission to call everyone who used her day centres in Lancashire. Credit: Age Central Lancashire

Instead of waiting for the lockdown to finish, Ms O’Connor made daily calls to those who visited the centre to see how they were coping.

She said: “We could have a capacity of up to 25 people in the centre every day prior to Covid. We’d do a range of different activities, stuff like baking and other things, everything was hands on and personal.”

She added: “We closed the doors to our day centres but then we thought ‘how do we support these people?’ They’re being told to stay home, away from other people, but what can we do?

Day centres have been allowed to reopen at limited capacity. Credit: Age Concern, Central Lancashire

“I made a database of all the service users who use the centre, how many days a week they attend the centre, and what level of support they needed. Then I would ring them on a daily basis. I rang every family, made sure they were all OK.

“We asked if they needed anything. We found it was actually really lovely. As much as people were physically cut off from the day centres, nobody was isolated because at the same time this was happening, family members had also been furloughed or weren’t working.

“Family members were there to support their loved ones themselves, and we noticed neighbours also really helping out. We’d offer to pick up prescriptions or do their shopping and so would neighbours, so it was really lovely.”

The lockdown inspired Ms O’Connor to think of other ways in which she could help the people she serves.

Once a database, it led to other innovations, including picking up shopping and having volunteers to help out. A coronavirus helpline was also set up, with local businesses volunteering.

“We were taking food hampers round to people, giving out jigsaws, puzzles and books to make sure people were cognitively engaged as well,” she said.

“For me, its been lovely to see the involvement of outside influences offering their time and support. It’s been really nice to show we can rely on people when the cards are down.”

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