Community and coronavirus

This is the first in a series of stories and experiences from this period of coronavirus-induced isolation. June Davies, Renew member and candidate for the 2019 Newport West by-election, writes about the importance of community within this pandemic.
It’s hard to imagine that just a year ago I was in full campaigning mode as Renew’s candidate in the Newport West by-election. I could never imagine that a year on I would be delivering a different kind of leaflet to the residents of my local community: this time, to ensure they know how to access support, essential food and medical supplies, whilst simultaneously co-ordinating a WhatsApp group for volunteers to ensure the organised delivery of all this to the local residents who need it most.
Across the length and breadth of the country, it has been heart-warning to see stories of spontaneous community groups emerging to work together to support their community, everyone pulling together to get through the coronavirus crisis as best we can.
Here in Monmouthshire, the community of Usk have pulled together a team of volunteers to ensure the safety of our vulnerable residents. We offer advice and practical help for those self isolating, both in Usk town and in the outlying rural villages.
Political affiliations are irrelevant now - we’re all in this together. We are united by empathy and compassion for our neighbours.
It’s humbling to see such human kindness from so many individuals and businesses who have had their livelihoods ripped apart in just a few short weeks.
A simple Facebook page was set up to identify co-ordinators for every street and each rural village who would lead the voluntary offers of support. Within a couple of days we had printed and delivered a few thousand leaflets setting out how we could offer support in delivering food and medicines, as well as with well-being and education. We want to ensure anyone who needs support can access it.
 WhatsApp groups have been a godsend for co-ordinating who needs what and when, especially in my village, which is made up of mostly older residents who began self-isolating over a week ago.
Our garage, our local farm shop and a host of other businesses remain open, delivering necessities to those in need. Life is adapting.
And people everywhere are willing to help, people like my 24 year old son, a final year physicians associate, who is willing to be deployed in whatever capacity is needed.
No more commuting for me. Instead, my day job continues virtually - teaching Economics and Business to students shell-shocked that their exams aren’t going ahead. Google Classroom and Google Hangouts have become the new norm.
My area is currently Wales’ coronavirus hotspot, and for the last two weeks our hospitals have been in emergency mode, preparing for the onslaught. A new hospital not due to open until next year will now be opening in early April, supplying us with critically needed beds. Everyone here knows someone who has the virus. My friends working within the NHS are risking their lives with inadequate paper masks and plastic aprons. Every day. Not knowing if they might succumb to the virus. Some already have.
The one message our loved ones working on the front line want everyone to listen to is: STAY HOME.
Yet, last weekend saw an unprecedented pre-season influx of caravans and second home owners into Wales. We locals are gobsmacked that anyone could believe rural areas are safer or even virus-free. We watched aghast as police were forced to close a local route, leading to a popular walk on the Sugar Loaf mountain, to stop hordes of people gathering on mother's day.
The inevitability of a lockdown has been apparent for some time, and now it's here, we must all adapt to protect our loved ones.
But lockdown doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. Musician friends are live-streaming gigs, children are putting their art in windows. Everyone is gardening, reading, cooking.
We're sharing what we have, staying in touch digitally, and enjoying the present. And this is what matters most to people here: the importance of community, and it becomes more important than ever, as we gradually adapt to the splendid isolation of lockdown in rural Monmouthshire.
If you're in the Usk area and want to help the community, please visit the coronavirus help and support Facebook group.

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