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Opinion: The community action group has received huge support since starting up.

PUBLISHED: 11:00 26 March 2020

Cllr Oliver Cooper thanks everyone who has volunteered during ther coronavirus pandemic.

Cllr Oliver Cooper thanks everyone who has volunteered during ther coronavirus pandemic.

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In the era of online targeted ads, I could have chosen anywhere to say it – but there’s nowhere right now than these pages that I can better target these two simple words: Thank you.

Hampstead and Highgate is home to more doctors and health workers than anywhere else in London, so there’s more chance the person reading these words works on the front line in the NHS than any other newspaper in our city. Every single one has the gratitude of all of us for the work being done now and always for the work they do. The pandemic means the next few months may be harder than they’ve ever faced.

It’s likely they’ve been battling it for longest, too. The Royal Free Hospital is home to the UK’s high-level isolation unit, so Hampstead is often the first place to see the first strains of deadly infectious diseases: as it has been over avian flu, Ebola, and now the novel coronavirus.

That’s not the only way that our community has taken the lead in defeating coronavirus. The same outpouring of civic responsibility has seen 500 people sign up to the Hampstead Volunteer Corps to help their neighbours that might be isolated at home, and has seen hundreds of others join similar community mutual aid groups across our community.

You can sign up to help – or find resources if you’re vulnerable – at hampsteadvolunteers.co.uk

Working with and for the residents that took the initiative to launch and lead the Corps has been a privilege. It’s also helped me understand roadblocks in the way of community groups and some of the help they need to overcome them.

Make no mistake: we need to. As well as doctors, Hampstead and Highgate is home to the most people aged over 70 in north London. With older residents at greatly heightened risk, we can’t underestimate the reserves and resources required to look after every single one of our neighbours in the coming months.

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It’s because of them – our doctors battling on the front line and our vulnerable, whom coronavirus hits hardest – that we need to ensure, more than anywhere else, that we do our bit.

It’s on all of us to ensure we strictly follow every piece of guidance from the chief medical officer and the government. That unless we absolutely have to go out, we stay home to save lives. That when we go out, we avoid physical contact and try to keep two metres away from others. That we shop responsibly so there’s always stuff left on the shelves for the vulnerable and our hard-working health and care workers. That we follow the full guidance at gov.uk/coronavirus

It’s also important that we continue to show the spirit that has made all of us so proud so far.

On Tuesday, the health secretary sent out a rallying call for 250,000 NHS Volunteer Responders to help support people isolated at home: doing shopping, fetching medicines, driving neighbours in need, or checking in to make sure nobody feels alone. If done right, this has the potential to ensure nobody is left behind, and we weather this all together. You can join at goodsamapp.org/nhs

The Hampstead Volunteer Corps’ organisers have asked for this initiative to be concrete and give clear support and direction to local volunteers: a structure for neighbours to help neighbours.

I’ve asked the government to ensure urgently these boots on the ground are given a clear plan and direction, to make sure the most is made of local volunteers. We have the enthusiasm, the human resource, and the skills – let’s support it with clear, safe, evidence-led leadership.

The pandemic has cost tens of thousands of lives worldwide, and poses a public health threat unlike any we’ve seen in the last century, but we’re well-placed to weather it.

Whether our heroic staff working in the NHS or social care, our tireless volunteers in the local community, or the ordinary people that are helping them keep everyone safe by following the guidance, there is no shortage of ways that people locally are playing their part. There really is no better place to say thank you.

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