This time last March, a small group in Devizes sat around the kitchen table of Jonathan Hunter.

Inspired by teenager Joe Brindle, son of clergyman Keith, the group had gathered to brainstorm ideas on how best to respond to the emerging coronavirus pandemic.

The Devizes COVID19 Support group was soon set up with the backing of Devizes Churches Together and Devizes Town Council.

Volunteers initially thought their help would be required for a matter of weeks.

Jonathan explained: “We did three registration days. It's hard to imagine, but this time last year I was stood in St James's Centre registering people to join our group.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald:

"We set a target of 100 people and ended up with 400. It was beyond our wildest dreams, and it's gone so quickly since then.

"At that point we knew we needed to be agile and had to respond quickly. But we didn’t realise how relentless and so hard-hitting the pandemic would be."

Thousands of phone calls, prescription pick-ups and shopping trips were made in the months that followed as the covid response group proved its worth in Devizes.

Grants from organisations such as the Wiltshire Community Fund meant the group could expand and improve their hub at the St James Centre.

In November, after a brief pause in activities, the group re-launched as a second lockdown was announced.

Working under the new banner of Love Devizes, as the weeks continued volunteers knew they wanted to offer help and support for the long haul.

Jonathan said: “It was great to have the infrastructure there so that we could carry on and develop it to where we are today.

"The pandemic exposed the fact that the need for a group like Love Devizes was here. It had maybe been hidden under the veneer of day to day life.

"But when you peel that veneer back, it showed that there were in fact people in need. We want to continue providing this level of support, but we want to be subtle. Love Devizes is like a supporting pair of helping hands, ready to catch people if they fall and to help if asked."

While the number of calls has decreased since the first lockdown, Love Devizes still work every week to support people in the community.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald:  Charity Volunteers Matthew Humphries Landlord of the Three Crowns along with fellow volunteer Mike Smith Charity Volunteers Matthew Humphries Landlord of the Three Crowns along with fellow volunteer Mike Smith

An online database tracks requests and they are then put to a group chat of volunteers.

In the last 12 months, not one request has been ignored or forgotten.

"The team effort is inspirational," said Jonathan.

"The contribution everyone makes with their own individual skills makes this great team.

"I'm not a native of Devizes, I'm from Newcastle but have lived here for 18 years now. I'm proud to call it home and witness this unique community spirit the town has. People want to selflessly help people on a daily basis.

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"Moving forward, we'll be helping people in a very different way to last year. Last March it was essentially an emergency situation that we had zero time to plan for.

"Now, we can make Love Devizes the best it can be."

Organisations such as Devizes Town Council, the Devizes Constituency Community Fund, Wiltshire Community Foundation, Sustainable Devzies and the Southern Co-op have been thanked for their support over the last year.

Love Devizes hope to work with other charities and local organisations across the town to create a more interconnected society. 

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