How communities were supported by EDP lockdown campaigns

Here are some of the faces of the people who signed up to become Here to Help: Not Alone pen friends

Here are some of the faces of the people who signed up to become Here to Help: Not Alone pen friends earlier this year. Picture: Anne Jones/Hannah Hopkins/Nicola Brown/ Submitted/Adam Wilson - Credit: Anne Jones/Hannah Hopkins/Nicola

More than a year ago, life as we knew it changed dramatically for millions of people across the globe.

In our tiny corner of the world, the Eastern Daily Press vowed to be #ThereWithYou during some of the most trying times we have seen in recent years. 

From keeping people connected, to making sure vulnerable people were receiving support, the EDP set up a series of campaigns to make sure no one was alone. 

Norfolk Here to Help campaign logo. Picture: Archant

Norfolk Here to Help campaign logo. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

The stories that follow are just a glimpse of how the EDP played its part during lockdown in an unprecedented pandemic, why it mattered, and how it made a difference.

On March 17 last year, with Norfolk County Council, we launched our Here to Help campaign in a bid to create an army of helpers to step in to offer that extra support. 

Shortly after, Alison Webb set up Dereham Cares in response to the first national lockdown. 

Alison Webb, the Breckland District Councillor who created Dereham Cares. Picture: Alison Webb

Alison Webb, the Breckland District Councillor who created Dereham Cares. Picture: Alison Webb - Credit: Archant

Like so many other across Norfolk and Waveney, she wanted to help people in the Dereham and Toftwood areas whose lives had been disproportionately affected by restrictions. 

She said: "Food, prescriptions, and telephone calls to address social isolation were the three things we felt important to be covered." 

Within a few weeks, Dereham Cares had around 150 volunteers making deliveries and telephone calls to help their more vulnerable neighbours. 

And although social media was an important tool used by Mrs Webb to spread the word, she explained how the EDP's regular listings of those offering support as part of the Here to Help campaign had played a major role. 

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"We delivered leaflets ourselves to spread the word too and the pieces in the paper really helped. 

"There was one particularly lovely piece about our help getting prescriptions and we had lots of people get in touch with us after that. 

"Of course, not everyone has social media and we can't take it for granted that everyone has a computer or wifi. 

"We're grateful for the press coverage we got and I think it helped people." 

Community life reporter Donna-Louise Bishop, is relaunching the Not Alone (pen pal initiative) strin

Community life correspondent, Donna-Louise Bishop, launched the Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend initiative - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

An offshoot of that initial campaign was the Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend initiative, which saw more than 1,000 people connected across the globe through letters, postcards, and drawings via post and email to individuals, organisations, care homes, and vulnerable people. 

One volunteer was north Norfolk resident, Kerri Clarke. The 36-year-old, of Cromer Road, Bodham, near Holt, signed up to stay connected to others during the first lockdown.

Woman holding letters

Kerri Clarke became a Here to Help: Not Alone pen friend volunteer - Credit: SUPPLIED

“I have always enjoyed writing to people and thought it would be lovely to make a connection with someone outside of my household during the lockdown,” she said. 

“The experience has been great.  

“When my first letter arrived, I felt excited about opening it and getting to know my new pen friend. It was a lovely, long letter and I enjoyed taking some time out to sit and read it. I put aside some time to reply and was keen to get it in the post as soon as I had written it. 

“I think that being a pen friend opened up the opportunity to make connections with other people during a time when socialising was restricted. It was lovely to have something to look forward to when times were so uncertain. 

“My pen friend and I are both from an educational-based background and have many things in common. We have a link in that her grandparents visit the Norfolk coast each year, although she and her husband have never been.  

“I would love to meet my new pen friend and her family after the lockdown. I know that she has never been to Norfolk and would happily be her tour guide.” 

And as Christmas approached, our thoughts turned to bringing some joy and festive cheer to care home residents, as well as school children. 

Doris Newman, a resident at Laurel Lodge care home in Norwich, was among the 1,600 care home residents who received a card. 

Doris Newman at Laurel Lodge

Laurel Lodge resident Doris Newman with her Christmas card from pupils at Mile Cross in Norwich. - Credit: Laurel Lodge

The EDP’s Christmas card campaign delivered 3,000 handmade cards designed by primary school pupils across Norfolk and Waveney to those living at 45 care homes in the region. 

Some pupils made residents more than one card as well as writing letters to wish them a Merry Christmas. 

The Ipswich Road care home received cards from Mile Cross Primary School, which the 93-year-old saying the children's involvement in the campaign made a difference to those living at the home. 

She said: “It was lovely to get the Christmas cards from children. It made me feel special and that everyone was thinking of us at Christmas time. 

“I loved the glitter on the cards, and the fact they were handwritten, it was a personal touch. 

“I can't believe so many children sent out so many cards, what a really kind gesture it was. They are so special. 

“I think having the Christmas cards made a difference to everyone here at Laurel Lodge, it brightened up my day and was a really thoughtful thing for the children to do.”  

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