FEATURE: An Ovation for the Isolation Organisation

Andover Isolation Help Group Queen Charlotte

It’s only when you see them in action that you can fully appreciate the work that the team from Andover’s most active support group is doing.

Impressive local lady Tori Rist set up the Andover Self Isolation Help Group almost three weeks ago, forecasting that many older people will need help. Her aim was to provide some support for people in Andover while we ride though this storm.

Since the Group was set up in early March, that ‘nasty little coronavirus’ has meant the UK’s situation has escalated from ‘people over 70 to remain indoors’, to the closure of our social venues and on to the simple message: Stay at Home.

Over the same period of time, as we all experienced a profound change in the way we live our lives, the organisers of the Andover Isolation Help Group have recruited over 100 volunteers. And they are getting stronger.

Trained teacher Tori has “a heart of gold”, says co-organiser Victoria Harber.  “She is selfless. Alongside this she is working on the setting up of ‘The Small School’ which is a school for children with autism here in Andover.

“She recently set up the Andover Neuro-diverse group and has absolutely selflessly thrown herself into doing things that will help anyone. Everyone who knows her should be proud to know her.

“She puts everyone else first. She is just brilliant.”

Victoria Harber is the landlady of The Queen Charlotte Inn on London Road, where her restaurant has been turned into an efficient distribution centre. 

The Group operates to help those seriously affected by the Government’s ‘lockdown’ rules by collecting and delivering groceries, essential food items and prescriptions.  The Group is relying heavily on the work of their volunteers who are putting themselves out to ensure those most at risk are cared for.

And the phone never stops ringing.  Victoria and one other volunteer at any given time are always on hand to help people with genuine needs.  “Sometimes people just want to talk”, says John Watson.  “Victoria spent 40 minutes on the phone to a lady in her eighties yesterday. 

“Loneliness is likely to be an increasing problem.  That may lead to a deterioration of mental health”, adds John in his branded his-vis jacket.

Working with local charity Unity, the group are fully insured, have safeguarding measures in place and practice the government rules on hygiene and personal contact.

Victoria is up before 7:00am each morning, answering the phone, acting as counsellor to callers and managing the logistics of collecting medication when queues are up to a 3 hour wait.  Yesterday, volunteer Keith spent just shy of six hours waiting to collect medications. 

The group is gratefully assisted by Andover-based national charity Veterans in Action.  Their dedicated team of volunteers are out and about driving their distinctive blue 4×4 vehicles every day collecting and delivering groceries and essentials.

Yesterday the team from the help group successful delivered groceries and essentials to 20 individuals and separately delivered more than 30 prescriptions for people who are genuinely unable to collect their essential ‘meds’.

Councillor David Coole joined the volunteer team last week with wife Joanne.  Like all other volunteers to the group, they have been assisting the impressive effort. In the past two days, David and Joanne have collected 21 peoples’ prescriptions, waiting in pharmacy queues for up to three hours.   

“There’s a good spirit in the queues though”, comments Cllr Coole. “Most people know they need to be patient and tolerant. Most people are talking and having a laugh.

In fact, we have the easy job, just waiting.

Cllr Coole’s comments follow as the pharmacy team at Shepherd’s Spring Medical Centre had yet another day of abuse from some customers yesterday. “I feel for the pharmacists, they have a very difficult job, especially when having to dealing with a few obnoxious people”.

The Andover Isolation Help Group are able to collect prescriptions for people with less mobility or are infirm. Pharmacies, of course, cannot guarantee that they will have medicines in stock. Yesterday Shepherd’s Spring broadcast a message asking people not to ‘stock-pile’ medicines. “People are panic-buying medicine and that’s really not necessary. It’s just creating a different problem,” says Joanne Coole.

The growing administration team based at the London Road pub have been learning as they help more and more people. “In the past few days we have got much more efficient,” says John Watson. “Nobody has encountered this before, so we are all learning on the job.”

Andover Isolation Group Andover Radio John Watson

While accepting donations from two local ladies who arrived at the pub, Victoria says, “Tori could see the potential problems ahead only three weeks ago.

We’ve really had to learn quickly. We are really grateful to people who have offered their help. Either answering the phone or going out of the their way to help with deliveries and collections.

“Donations of food are always welcome” adds Victoria.  “Just as we receive one lot of groceries, yet more calls come in from more people in need.  But, every little helps”

The team from Veterans in Action have asked for donations of food, dried goods and household items. If you are able to donate any surplus food or products, please contact Veterans in Action on 01264 771 658.  You can find alternative ways to contact them via their website here.

The group is entirely self-funded, although many grateful recipients of their assistance are willing to offer some financial help. “I want to thank everyone for their support, we really hope that we can help pay for peoples’ petrol at least, it really shouldn’t be costing our volunteers their own money to do this,” says Victoria. 

Today Andover Radio completed the Group’s GoFundMe fundraiser – getting them to their target of £500, but much more will be needed in the coming weeks, maybe months.  To make a donation to the Andover Isolation Help Group, please click here. Andover Radio’s Ben Tuffin and Kevin Ridgeon are supporting the Group’s efforts as drivers for deliveries.

It’s not just a practical job, it’s emotional one, too. Every volunteer who has been on a delivery has had an emotional moment when ‘customers’ show their appreciation. Victoria has been in tears because of the pressure on their team to perform, but also because of the thanks they are collectively receiving.

“We helped one gentleman who had just got out of hospital after two weeks”, says Victoria.  “He was basically still in his gown and had no idea what was going on. He had no money, he was dazed and confused.

“We got him some food straight away and I put in a small pasty.  Today he called back to thank us, and said that the pasty was the first hot food he was able to have because he was able open the packaging. 

“He also wanted us to check on an elderly neighbour for him, but we had already made contact.

We really appreciate the thanks and that people really do seem to be coming together and supporting those in need in our community.”

Another user, an 84-year old gentleman was so grateful to the group.  He told volunteer John Watson that he was feeling better largely down to the positive work that the group are doing, not just the medication they delivered. 

“It’s good to be doing something for our community,” chipped in John Watson, a Facilities Manager turned charitable helper. “It’s certainly an excuse to get out of the house and do something where there are real, discernible benefits to individuals.”

If you are able to donate to keep the Group running, please visit their GoFundMe page here.

If you are able to donate any food, dried good or household items, please call Veterans in Action on 01264 771 658.

If you need the help of the Andover Isolation Help Group, visit their Facebook page here or call 01264 748 946.

If you need general advice or information please call the Unity Coronavirus Helpline on 0330 400 4116.

To keep up-to-date on the work of the Group or the Unity Coronavirus Helpline listen to 95.9FM Andover Radio.

The pub now has a large blackboard outside explaining that it is the admin and distribution location of the Andover Isolation Help Group after some fussbudget busy body contacted police (who turned up outside in TWO squad cars today) to ensure the pub wasn’t open.

If you are able to donate to keep the Group running, please visit their GoFundMe page here.

About the author

David Harber

David Harber is the founder and Managing Director of Love Andover, including the Love Andover Observer newspaper and 95.9FM Andover Radio. He is a fellow at the Royal Society of Arts and a card carrying member of the Nation Union of Journalists.