ARMIES of volunteers who were supported by coronavirus fund grants to help vulnerable and isolating people during the first lockdown are mobilising again.

Thousands of shopping trips, prescription runs and welfare phone calls were made by hundreds of people who joined Covid response groups, which were helped with grants from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund.

Many of the groups were so successful they have carried on supporting their communities but now they are gearing up to meet the challenge of the latest lockdown and possibly beyond.

Pewsey Community Coronavirus Assist, which was awarded £2,500 from the community foundation’s fund, has continued helping the people of the village since the lockdown, opening a community market and friendship café, a library and delivering 30 hot meals a week to elderly people living alone.

The market, which gives away fruit and vegetables in exchange for a small donation in the scout hut every Saturday morning, is continuing. Trustee Phil Brady said: “It is important that we keep going because there are people who just don’t go anywhere else, it might be the only conversation they have all week. These are vulnerable people who are just fed up. It’s a place where they can come for a chat and to get some reassurance.”

The group stopped collecting shopping and prescriptions when demand fell but Mr Brady said the group’s dozens of volunteers are ready to respond if needed. He does expect demand for the hot meals to continue rising.

He said: “We are getting busier. We now have 14 people on our cooking team rota who prepare a main course and a dessert in their own kitchen and then bring them to the scout hall every Friday. Our delivery team then take them out.”

Royal Wootton Bassett’s response group, Royal Wootton Bassett Helpers, received £2,000 from the community foundation in the summer to support 400 volunteers. Co-ordinator James Shannon said just 40 have signed up again so far but expects more.

Imagine Cruising has again donated staff time and resources to operate the group’s phone lines.

Mr Shannon said: “We have had people get in touch, particularly those who are struggling for food because they have lost their job. We are also hearing cases of people who have been signed off sick from work because of anxiety and stress which seem to be related to Covid.

“We are using the money we have had donated from the Wiltshire Community Foundation and the Rotary Club to buy vouchers for supermarkets. If someone can’t get out because they are isolating, we can hook them up with a volunteer.”

He said the group won’t be collecting prescriptions because pharmacies in the town are well organised. “We will certainly be picking up shopping and any other practical tasks people want us to do,” he said.

“We just don’t know what the demand will be yet or how long people will need help, but based on the fact that the furlough scheme runs until the end of March at least, we have got to be thinking we’ll be supporting people at least that long.”

Devizes’ response group recruited more than 300 volunteers and was awarded £3,000 from the community foundation’s coronavirus fund. Rev Keith Brindle said the group has been rebranded as Love Devizes and moved to a new base at St James Church’s community hub in Estcourt Crescent.

He said the group has been told to be ready to continue beyond the December 2 end date of the latest lockdown. “We have a new Love Devizes website ready to launch with links for people to volunteer. Next week there will be a link for people who need help to register.

“That might seem a bit slow but this service is going to be needed long after the end of November from what we’ve heard from Wiltshire Public Health and others. We are setting it up now not just as a response to the lockdown but we want this to continue to provide for the town to flourish in the months and the years ahead and people are responding to that idea.”

An email to previous volunteers sent out on Saturday has already seen 80 people re-register. “We think we will have 200 to 300 sign up, which is why we want to have something sustainable off the back of it,” said Rev Brindle.

In addition to shopping and pharmacy runs, the group is setting up a support phone line for people who just need someone to talk to. “There are a lot more people with pastoral needs rather than shopping needs so we have a chat phone line with volunteers with a counselling background,” said Rev Brindle.

“We saw an increase in loneliness and isolation as time went by the first time, but because everyone has been through this once, people whose mental health was at a low ebb at the end of the last lockdown will be struggling sooner this time, or are already struggling.”

The Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Response and Recovery Fund has raised almost £1.2 million and distributed £950,000 to groups all over Swindon and Wiltshire through more than 200 grants. To donate or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to