A number of key agencies and groups are working together for the common good to provide help, co-ordination and funding to those households which need it most in Totnes and the surrounding areas.

A screen grab from the weekly online meeting of Councillors, Officers, Community Groups and NHS representatives held for Totnes and surrounding areas.

A weekly Zoom meeting, organised by Totnes Town Council, which includes councillors and officers from South Hams District and the Town Council, along with Anthony Mangnall MP, NHS representatives and community groups such as the Food Bank, Community Hub, Totnes Caring and Food in Communities have established excellent working relationships in their determination to support their local community.

The meeting, held on a Monday evening, raises issues facing the town's residents and looks to see how the collective can solve problems and provide support. 

Totnes Ward Member for South Hams District Council, Cllr Jo Sweett said: "It's a huge privilege to be part of the Totnes based support group of charities and councillors of all tiers who literally swung into action days before lockdown to ensure support for our vulnerable.

"Representatives of The Totnes Surgery, Bob the Bus, Caring town, Totnes Caring, The Totnes Food bank and Connection Hub and Food in the Community work together to provide the vital support links for our vulnerable and needy making certain all are fed and cared for at this Corona time.

"As a South Hams District Council Totnes Ward Member, I'm delighted to help and network throughout the wider community to improve the support required. Thanks to Totnes Town Council for organising the meetings, it's almost unbelievable that this week will mark our ninth meeting.  A huge thank you to all involved, including South Hams District Council officers. We are so fortunate to have such co-ordination, professionalism and heartfelt kindness." 

Throughout the lockdown, the District Council have been able to support the homeless and travelling community through dedicated outreach work to meet their individual needs.  In recent weeks they have also been able to offer essential refrigerator storage space for the Food Bank, as well as providing funding and practical assistance. 

Local Action Support Fund grants of £250 each have been given to Totnes Caring, Food in Communities, the Food Bank and the Community Hub to support their individual community work on the ground. Food parcels are being delivered by the District's Mobile Locality Officers to those in shielded residents in need. The Council has also provided important safety signage in some of the busier public open spaces to remind people to follow national safe distancing measures and to be respectful of other users.

A grant was also given to the Totnes All Ears group, a listening service that offers spiritual and pastoral support to anyone who may feel alone, afraid, or anxious during this difficult time. All Ears is run by volunteers from the Anglican churches in Totnes and is for people of all faiths and none. A spokesperson for the group said: "Thanks so much for your incredibly valuable Local Action Support Fund grant to help support our listening service." 

Cllr Joseph Rose, District Councillor added: "Despite the widespread fear and suffering caused by COVID-19 and the protective measures taken, the community response to this crisis has been incredibly inspiring and heart-warming.

"At a time when community resilience could not be more essential, the people of Totnes have risen to meet this challenge admirably and it is a pleasure to see, and be a part of this."

Anthony Mangnall, the MP for the Totnes Constituency has been on hand to support the group with key information coming from Government. "It is a pleasure to be able to join the Totnes Town Council calls. Their work over this crisis has been fantastic. Regardless of political colour we are all working together to help our communities and to support the vulnerable, isolated and most in need. I will continue to be on hand and available to help with information, enquiries and assistance across South Devon."

Food in the Community are supporting the community by providing food banks and meal deliveries across South Devon.  The group are cooking and making up food parcels for people whose world has been turned upside down by Covid-19 who rely on Food in the Community to continue to supply them with fresh nutritious food each week, as do 80 plus individual households their volunteers deliver directly to.

They estimate that by partnering with local food producers, statutory services, Totnes Caring, Totnes Connection Hub and other local organisations, with support from South Hams District Council and Totnes Town Council, that Food in Community's volunteers have delivered almost 20,000 meals worth of fresh food since lockdown started. Much of this food would otherwise have gone to waste.  

SHDC Councillor, John Birch said: "A big thanks must go to the Totnes Town Council for organising the regular Monday afternoon community virtual meetings. The Town Council has also brought together all those local organisations who are doing so much to ensure that those in need of help and assistance are not overlooked.

"A special mention should go to Totnes Caring, The Food Bank and Hub and Food in the Community. Thanks for all you are doing. A true community spirit is there for all to see."

Totnes Caring is currently supporting about 400 vulnerable people in Totnes and the surrounding area to stay safe, healthy and happy. They report that the response from the community has been amazing. Currently the charity has about 130 volunteers who are supporting self-isolating and shielding vulnerable people by providing practical help. This might be help such as shopping, delivering prescriptions and hot lunches as well as through telephone befriending and support.

Home helps from Totnes Caring continue to support about 75 clients, while taking the appropriate precautions. South Hams District Council is supporting Totnes Caring with a small grant and is also providing practical help such as providing appropriate PPE to the charity. The SHDC Locality Engagement Officers and a representative from Totnes Caring attend Totnes Town Council's meeting chaired by TTC which helps co-ordinate action in the Totnes area. 

Cllr Jacqi Hodgson, Mayor of Totnes Town Council and South Hams District Councillor said: "It has been really uplifting to work with a wide range of community groups and individuals who are all working so hard during this crisis. The weekly meetings have been a really useful way of sharing updates and requests for support which, so far, has meant services have continued to expand and develop to meet local needs.

"I am proud that Totnes Town Council have partnered up in this way for the benefit of the local community, it has been a very difficult time for a lot of people and the challenges aren't over yet. I hope this partnership continues during the coming weeks and months as the situation changes and also helps elected Members direct resources at the projects that most need it."

Cllr Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council, said: "It's incredibly satisfying to see how statutory agencies and community groups have come together to support one another.  This is a very successful group out of many we are seeing throughout the District.  Even as we see the first stage of relaxation to the Government's guidance, there are still many vulnerable who continue to need financial, practical and emotional support. It is important that we continue to pull together to ensure everyone continues to get the help they require, for as long as they need it. 

Further information, support and advice can be found on the District Council's website at www.southhams.gov.uk/coronavirus 

If you would like to donate to Food In the Community, go to: www.goldengiving.com/wall/food-in-community 

Issued: 18 May 2020