An update from Fulwell candidate Michael Hartnack on his team's Coronavirus response

I’d like to start by thanking everyone who has helped our cause. We hardly know each other, but we are now all friends, brought together for a common purpose - 'People Helping People'. For that friendship and support I owe you far more than just a massive thank you. We will come together at some point in the future, but for now we still have an important job to do. Upon my initial appeal on 15 March, you responded as a small army of people coming forward to communicate with 4800 residents of Fulwell, Seaburn and South Bents and quite quickly, where need was significant, we extended into Roker and Monkwearmouth. Within days we had an overwhelming 100+ households making contact with us - all needing some form of support and reassurance. The number of volunteers coming forward was overwhelming and what started off quite small became big, with a huge responsibility on us to deliver, and you certainly have done. Thank you so much!

You originally came forward to support our neighbourhoods in Fulwell, Seaburn and South Bents, but we quickly realised that because of the significant time lag in the Council setting up their support system (they were at least three weeks behind us), we needed to be helping across our City. We are now providing, and continue to provide, support to many people in Roker, Hendon, Southwick and Marley Potts. We have done this through our link with a major supermarket and the developing of a relationship with them. This has resulted in us having access to, and distributing to date, well over £10,000 worth of food. We have done an amazing job in supporting this effort, which at times has been challenging to say the least, but see as follows a brief summary of some of what we have achieved so far: 

• over 5,000 homes covered by delivery of letters of support to every family across Fulwell, Seaburn, South Bents and much of Roker
• direct contact with over 240 households who have made contact with us
• 130 volunteers coming forward to support our effort.  Over 45 volunteers recruited between 15th and 19th March
• maintained contact with those people we are supporting
• undertaken numerous shopping trips and collected prescriptions etc…
• delivered 250 general food parcels to those who have approached us and a further 350 food parcels and specific items by way of offer to others in the community
• we have supported food banks in Farringdon, Hendon and Southwick and have delivered bread, meat, vegetables and other produce to sheltered housing projects in Fulwell, Seaburn, Roker, Southwick and Hendon
• we acquired and delivered 130 Easter Eggs shared between the Salvation Army at Southwick and Bethany City Church food banks a few days prior to Easter, which were very gratefully received.  
• we have targeted families and individuals with serious financial needs and managed to get food to them. We have assessed need on face value and I can assure everyone, that the claims of need have been absolutely genuine. We have not turned anyone away who has sought help from us, and some of those families/individuals are receiving substantial parcels from us on a regular basis - nobody will starve on our watch and we will never turn anyone, who claims to be in need, away
• we have shared in people’s fears and worries in a way that only truly caring people can and the feedback received has been amazing
• we have undertaken transportation of those we are looking after to hospital appointments
• we have risen to the challenge of supporting other appeals such as the hand cream appeal for nurses.

In mid-April, we responded directly and launched our own appeal, in response to demand from local hospitals and care homes for the production of nurses’ scrub bags.  Within 72 hours our first order for 80 bags was delivered to delighted recipients at Sunderland Royal Hospital. Over 950 bags have now been made, with skill and love, by our volunteers and extended volunteers, as a direct consequence of our coordinated appeal. Thank you to all who have made this happen. We fulfilled all the requests that were made of us, supplying hundreds to Sunderland Royal Hospital, along with over a hundred to the RVI in Newcastle and we also provided a large number to care homes across Sunderland, and in particular Roker, Castletown and Washington.  A huge thank you to our volunteer, Helen Scrimger, our “Scrub Bag Manager” for her efforts, supported by Lynne Thompson and all our extended volunteers who were moved to support the initiative with such enthusiasm, skill and love.  The donations of fabric from our communities was also gratefully received and the surplus fabric has been put to good use also, through the distribution of quality bedding sets, to those needing them - all freshly washed and pressed.

For as long as we need to, we will continue to support all those within our community in whatever way we reasonably and safely can.

Aldi (Millfield) have been amazing throughout the Covid-19 crisis and I will expand upon their contribution to our efforts at a later date.  Suffice to say, however, in just over two months, they have supplied us with over £10,000 of high-quality produce, which has helped to feed those in need at this time of national crisis. 

Since the last week in March, we have been doing daily food runs to and from Aldi, and I am grateful for the support I have received in this regard.  From these food runs, we have supplied much-needed food parcels to 19 people on virtually a daily basis across Fulwell, Seaburn, Roker, South Bents, Hendon and Marley Potts.  The food collection run used to take place on a morning which was great, but I discovered that we could get access to more and better quality food items (chilled and frozen), if we collected at night, so Bryan and I have been attending Aldi every night at 9.30 (3.30 pm on a Sunday), to collect food and distribute to individuals in need, then supplying our two food banks, during the week at Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project, and at a weekend, Hendon Soup Project.  

Some volunteers have worked long hours in support of our mission and for that I’m incredibly grateful. 

Whilst we have supported Council endorsed food banks during the initial stages of Covid-19, at the Salvation Army Southwick and Bethany City Church, both of which do a brilliant job I have to say, there were initially aspects of the conditions under which they distributed food (requirement to be on benefits) with which I didn’t entirely agree and so we partnered up with a Southwick based charity, Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project (SNYP) and were involved from the beginning in establishing their food distribution service, for which we remain currently, a major contributor to their food supply.  This has been a huge success and we have fed anyone who has asked for food, without asking for any qualifying evidence from the outset.  I am pleased to note, that other food banks across the City, also changed their policy in line with ours after a few weeks of the crisis, which was the right and proper thing to do and I am grateful to the Council for reflecting and changing their policy in that regard. 

I can say, that there may be a very small minority of people seeking help who don’t need it, but on the whole, everyone seeking support is genuine, there is some serious need out there, especially amongst those being furloughed and low paid self-employed people who have had restricted sources of income throughout.

In any event, 'sometimes we need to feed the greedy to get to the needy' and indeed, our joint working is operating well in satisfying need. I have a list of those we are supporting across our area, and those people will continue to be fed with quality and varied produce, but if you know of anyone at all, anywhere in Sunderland, who is in need, I will do whatever I can to get food to them – nobody should be unable to access food in this day and age 

Pamper Hamper Appeal:

I was approached by a Macmillan nurse on 23 April, asking for urgent help. The situation was as follows:
A number of patients across Sunderland, including our own area, but especially in Ryhope, Silksworth and Hendon areas, who rather than receiving cancer treatment in hospital or end of life care at St Benedict’s Hospice, as a consequence of Covid-19, were having to be cared for at home by nursing teams and in particular Macmillan nurses. Sadly, some patients were unable to access quite basic and simple toiletries, and I have been told of examples, where such items were having to be purchased personally by nursing staff. In some instances, some patients being cared for had no family caring for them. These instances are heart breaking and happening here in our communities across Sunderland. 

There were also issues concerning the feeding and access to food for some patients, which we have managed to help with, through our access to food supplies.

The urgent need for toiletries consisting of shower gels, soap, shampoo and deodorants was clear and this is where our volunteers came to the rescue and the response was simply astonishing.

We put out the appeal on 25 April and time-limited it to five days.  Utilising social media and establishing collection points across the City, Students from Sunderland College HND Policing Studies, and Newcastle University History and Politics, were approached to support the initiative.  After five days, and a most generous response from the public, local businesses and a small charity with whom we partnered with in Portland, we filled to the brim, the equivalent of five estate cars full of much-needed toiletry items. 

A huge thank you for the efforts of Russ Tibbo in coordinating the activity of this initiative and what an amazing outcome.  

Meals on Wheels:

From Wednesday 27 May, for four weeks until Wednesday 17 June, each Wednesday we are providing freshly prepared meals to those in the community, most needing such support.  Due to the kindness of a major Sunderland employer, we have been able to source the facility which will feed families, elderly, disabled and others across the City in Hendon, Millfield, Southwick, Marley Potts, Roker, Monkwearmouth, Seaburn, Fulwell and South Bents.  On conclusion of this initiative, we will have provided 900 meals to people in our communities, with many thanks on their behalf to our amazing donor and our brilliant volunteers who have responded week in week out to address such need.

Moreover, How can I possibly forget our weekly treat service to the 240 households we have been supporting? Every week since the end of March, Katy, the owner of The Snowgoose Cafe on Roker Marina, has been making fabulous cakes and scones for distribution across our network of service users.

Occasionally twice a week, her efforts have seen in total, over 1000 scones and cakes delivered by our volunteers, to our service users.  This has not only sent a message of care and love to those grateful recipients, but it has been invaluable in maintaining face to face (social distance observed) contact with those who we have been caring for.  In at least two instances, the inability to make contact has resulted in further enquiries being made, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our service users.

Again, a huge thank you to Katy and Len for their support in this initiative.

I receive feedback from our service users on a daily basis and it is all positive. We have fixed boilers, repaired doors that have fallen off their hinges, switched electricity back on and other little emergency tasks, in addition to shopping, taking to hospital appointments, dog walking etc… but the one thing most are incredibly grateful for, is knowing that someone cares for them and makes contact, by telephone, from time to time. 

Once again may I say a massive thank you. I hope you have found this update helpful.

Words really cannot describe just how privileged and proud I feel being part of such a wonderful group of people.

I am working on our exit strategy, as many of you are aware, and we are doing this on a needs-based assessment, the details of which I will get to you all over the next few days.

With best wishes and much gratitude,

Michael Hartnack