It’s great that you’ve started a COVID-19 support group. How you decide to help people in your community is up to you, but there are some simple things that you’ll need to consider in order to keep yourself, and others safe.
We’ve been providing advice and support to voluntary and community groups for many years, so if you are from a local group, you’re at the right place! Others are welcome to use our advice.
When outside of the home, you should still ideally stay 2 meters apart, but if that's not possible, you can stay 1 meter apart with extra precautions such as face coverings and not sitting face-to-face. This still applies if you are delivering food or prescriptions to a member of your community on a voluntary basis.
Specific information on symptoms and measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus can be found here.
Government guidance says you can only provide support to people who are in isolation if you fulfil ALL of the following conditions: you are well and have no symptoms like a cough or high temperature and nobody in your household does; you are under 70 years old; you are not pregnant; and you do not have any long-term health conditions that make you vulnerable to coronavirus.
The Environmental Health Team at South Somerset District Council have published guidance on food hygiene for indiviuals and groups preparing meals to share in their community, which you can download here.
Are you coordinating community support for those affected by COVID-19 in Somerset? We’ve launched Corona Helpers, a free online platform on which individuals can pledge to help, and groups can promote their work, and recruit and manage new volunteers. Sign up here.
Aim and scope of the group
This may seem obvious, but making this clear on your Corna Helpers listing, Facebook group or website will help people to understand what you are offering and what you are not, and which area your scheme covers. This could be a street, neighbourhood, village or town - it's helpful to be specific.
If you are delivering food to vulnerable people or collecting prescriptions, please make sure that you are familiar with the latest government guidance about staying at home, and away from others. This is available here. There should be no physical contact between volunteers and those in need. Place the goods on the doorstep and notify the person that their delivery has arrived. Volunteers should wash their hands before and after a delivery or delivery session.
If you are shopping for someone with sepcific dietary requirements, take a look at Vegetarian For Life's Good Shopping Guide.
Generally speaking, anyone can pick up medicines for their family member, neighbour or a friend, provided they know the name and address of the patient. When collecting prescriptions with controlled drugs like Morphine or Methodone, volunteers will need a valid photo ID. It would be a good idea to carry a photo ID regardless, in case pharmacy staff query why someone else than the usual person is collecting the medication. If they are collecting for people who are exempt from prescription charges, they will be asked to sign and tick the appropriate boxes. It would be sensible for volunteers to carry their own pens for that purpose and reduce risk of infection. Many pharmacies are extremely busy at the moment and waiting times can be long. As an extra safeguarding measure, some groups have decided to use volunteers with current DBS certificates, others are tasking two volunteers to collect prescriptions.
Managing other people's money is a key issue for groups at the moment, and there are lots of options for volunteers who need to handle cash to pay for shopping and prescriptions. We've outlined those options, along with the pros and cons for each here. Please note, this is an evolving issue and the document will be updated as we get new or different advice.
The Social Change Agency are hosting an easy to use platform called the Open Collective which allows funds to be transparently deposited and withdrawn. Contact us for more information.
Volunteers should not walk someone else’s dog if they are feeling unwell in any way, and only walk one dog at a time. It’s important to maintain social distancing when collecting, walking and returning the dog. If the owner has a gated front garden, they could leave the dog there for you to collect. If not, they could tie its lead to the front door handle. Ideally, volunteers should bring their own lead, but either way, it will need disinfecting before and after use. When walking the dog, there is the possibility that someone else who is asymptomatic with the virus could leave it on the dog, if they stroke it or if droplets from a cough or sneeze end up on its fur, collar or lead. You should wash your hands before and after dog walking and not touch your face with your hands while dog walking. remeberm walking someone else’s dog is a big responsibility, so only do it if you feel confident enough.
Thanks to the Taunton Northfield Coronavirus Community Help Group for this information. You can download their full dog walking guidance here.
The Canine and Feline Sector Group has produced this leaflet on walking someone else's dog, which is also very useful.
We know that you and your fellow volunteers will be supporting vulnerable individuals within your community – and your help is much appreciated. However, this can be very challenging and you may, on occasion, face situations that you are uncertain about.
As volunteers, you can support vulnerable people in your community in lots of ways – for example, by doing someone’s shopping, walking their dog, picking up medicines or simply checking in on a neighbour to see how they are doing. However, you are not expected to take on tasks and responsibilities that should be carried out by paid staff.
- If an individual or organisation asks you to do a task that makes you feel uncomfortable, you must say NO. You are a volunteer and have no obligation to take on tasks that you don’t wish to do.
- If you are concerned for the welfare of any individual – adult or child - and believe that their needs cannot be met by volunteers, then please speak to the person who referred them to you in the first instance, whether this was a GP, Village Agent, Health Connector, the Council or member of staff from another organisation.
- If the situation cannot be addressed (or if the person came to you themselves), then please ask them to get in touch with Somerset Direct on 0300 123 2224. In some circumstances, you may wish to contact Somerset Direct on their behalf to ensure that they get the help that they need.
The vast majority of volunteers coming forward for these schemes will not have a DBS certificate, so organisers must be aware of the potential for criminals to volunteer. If the volunteer is unknown to any of the organisers, you could ask for a referee to speak with over the phone, and monitor any help they give (by phoning the person they’ve helped). One group in Yeovil is asking for photo ID and proof of residence. Any complaints about volunteers need to be investigated as a priority and no further tasks be given to the volunteer until the facts are established.
Get more information on DBS requirements here.
It’s very likely that you’ll need to handle people’s sensitive personal information and share it with others. And that means taking account of data protection law. If you’ve just formed a community group, this may be the first time you’ve had to think about data protection. Put simply, the law is a set of sensible standards that will help you handle people’s information responsibly. That means taking proper care of things like people’s names and addresses as well as more sensitive details about their health or religion.
The information Commissioners Office has written some clear, easy to understand guidance on data protection, which includes a data protection policy template that you can download and adapt for your group’s purpose. Click here.
Virus-specific health precautions
For the latest information on health precautions please see the NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
Looking after your volunteers
This situation is unprecedented and it’s important that volunteers feel valued and involved in your service, and that they have a regular opportunity to offload their worries. Your volunteers are more likely to remain working with you through this phase if you message them with thanks and an update on how your scheme is doing. A phone call to those who don’t ‘do’ online would be an alternative.
We're working closely with Somerset County Council's Public Health team to provide advice and guidance to the network of coronavirus support groups across Somerset, so please check back for regular updates.