Hundreds band together to create coronavirus solidarity network for Birmingham’s vulnerable and needy
Hundreds of people all over Birmingham have joined forces to create a network of volunteers to help the homeless and elderly in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
Individuals, charities and residents groups have come together to launch Birmingham Community Solidarity, a new initiative focusing on helping the most vulnerable as key to protecting the wider population.
In the face of panic buying and what many have described as excessive and selfish hoarding, the BCS group hope to “revive the spirit of direct action and material solidarity”, focusing on “just people for people”.
A volunteer call-out by the collective to build a selfless network of citizen activists has attracted nearly 3,000 members to their online group.
The project aims to connect skilled individuals from drivers, stock takers, stock organisers and distributors with the most vulnerable in the community, including the elderly, homeless, needy and those with health impairments; and provide them with items and assistance as urgently required. This involves liaising directly with food banks and charities already working on the ground.
This may include delivering much-needed nappies, toiletries or food to those who are unable to get to a local supermarket, or tending to those who need direct assistance in their home; all while ensuring NHS advice and protocol are strictly followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Introducing themselves as a grassroots initiative with “no membership and no top-down political agenda”, BCS formed after finding “the governmental response to the outbreak has been weak and disconnected.”
Helping the elderly and homeless
Concerned about how the elderly, isolated and immunocompromised are going to get through the coronavirus crisis when self isolating; the group wants people to think about how the vulnerable will be supported if the current situation worsens, and to be prepared residents are not abandoned in the event of an all-out government lockdown.
Following a recent call-out for food, toiletries and vital supplies earlier this week, volunteers yesterday dropped off tinned food and sanitary items at The Prince of Wales pub in Moseley.
Saffiyah Khan, one of co-ordinators within the group, told I Am Birmingham: “The virus, by nature, tests our solidarity. You can hoard all you want but if you aren’t helping others to stay safe and clean, then the virus will still multiply.
“Community outreach organisations, food banks and the elderly are now struggling for basic necessities because of panic buyers who wiped out 10 years’ worth of necessities without thinking about others.
“Let’s come together as a community to help out food banks, homeless charities and the most vulnerable folks in our city survive this crisis!”
Demand for vital donations
As part of their focus on homeless people, Birmingham Community Solidarity are looking into how to maintain the extra levels of hygiene required to protect rough sleepers and those in shelters from coronavirus, addressing how they are expected to self isolate; and working closely with outreach groups like Let’s Feed Brum to ensure they can continue providing assistance.
In an extensive list of required donations, items needed by local food banks and outreach groups include tinned foods and soups, bottled water, cooking oil, cereals, lentils, jam, long-life fruit juices and long-life milk, pasta, sauces, rice, snacks, tea bags, sugar and biscuits. The full list can be found on the group’s Facebook page.
With donations of hygiene products high on their list, the coalition of care is seeking non-alcoholic hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes or non-aerosol spray. They also require various sizes of nappies, baby formula, soap and small disinfectant bottles for bodily use.
Virus community protection
However, BCS are taking strict precautions across all of their work and have asked anyone volunteering to prioritise protecting themselves before attempting to assist others. Posting on social media, they said:
“This group is a communication platform to support community efforts to self-organise through community ties which form through solidarity.
“As such, we cannot assume responsibility for individuals not taking safety measures recommended by the NHS. If you are from a high risk group, we encourage you to put your own safety first and avoid activities that involve direct and/or physical contact.
“Please bear in mind, that no matter which risk group you are in, high or low, by compromising your own health you are also putting others at risk who might be more vulnerable.”
Speaking to I Am Birmingham, group organisers explained:
“Birmingham Community Solidarity was set up a few weeks ago as a community platform for material solidarity, combating austerity and strengthening the culture of grassroots activism in Birmingham.
“Our collective is a group of local activists, some of whom are involved with different initiatives and/or third sector organisations dealing with housing, migrant rights and community cohesion. We don’t have a registered organisation or a political agenda behind us and are open to work with anyone for the good of our communities.
“When the epidemic of Coronavirus turned into a pandemic several days ago, we decided we need to step up our game fast and respond to the current crisis.
Tackling supply shortages
“We are focusing on several different aspects of the response: identifying supply shortages, groups that are most affected such as mums, elderly, people with mobility issues, language barriers, etc.
“We are reaching out to and linking up with existing community initiatives, food banks and building links as well as helping people navigate the group where people can find each other locally to reaffirm community ties.
“From day one, it turned out our response will not only have to reach people who are self-isolating, but also help outreach organisations whose regular suppliers’ stock have been wiped up by panic buyers. Homeless charities and food banks are now struggling for basic supplies including baby products like milk and nappies.”
BCS encourage anyone wanting to get involved to follow the Birmingham Community Solidarity Facebook page and group, to donate food and sanitary items, to shop responsibly, and to spread the word about the city-wide collaborative effort.
“We would like to ask everyone to shop responsibly and remember about their fellow Brummies. Panic buying makes the situation much worse as people instead of coming together are fighting for scraps.”
“We set up a group on Facebook on Friday evening. By Monday morning, it already had almost 1800 members, with people adding their friends every minute.
“People are offering to donate time, provide transport, they are posting about excess supplies they have to donate, offering friendly phone calls, storage or volunteer capacity. We have a signup sheet which only yesterday had over 100 people sign up offering help and resources.”
Organisers had also planned a music gig to introduce people to the initiative, promote community engagement and spread information about the work already being done in Birmingham by outreach groups – including the Real Junk Food Project, Food Cycle, and the Acorn tenants’ union – but had to put it on hold due to the virus outbreak.
However, they may still present the gig as a live online event to help fundraise for food and toiletry supplies.
“We created Birmingham Community Solidarity not as a one-off gig, but as a platform to link people looking for ways to get involved with community hubs and projects scattered across all of Birmingham. We sincerely hope that the spirit of mutual aid survives beyond the Coronavirus crisis and continues to connect communities long after.”
Support local communities with the help of Birmingham Community Solidarity
Posted by Birmingham Community Solidarity on Saturday, 21 March 2020