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COVID-19 in Maidenhead – one year on

Next week marks a year since the country entered into its first COVID-19 lockdown. As we approach 12 months since the pandemic began to take hold of our freedoms, reporter Kieran Bell spoke to some of the volunteers who have formed an army of people helping others out during the crisis.

It has been nearly a year since our lives changed dramatically.

One year ago, in March 2020, countries around the world closed schools, shops and pubs as early COVID-19 infections climbed, and it was not long before the UK followed suit.

We were forced to stay at home, only leaving for essential reasons. Families cut off, trips away halted. And most of us can remember the date – March 23.

Fast forward 12 months, and many of the restrictions we have had to endure over the past year are still in force.

After the first lockdown in 2020, we were slowly given some freedoms over the summer, before an expected second wave of COVID-19 plunged the country back into lockdown again in November, and once more in January.

Amongst all of the sadness as the pandemic approaches an unwanted milestone, there have been tales of kindness and acts of selflessness as people pulled together to help one another.

And this was the case for Maidenhead, whose community groups and charities stepped up to act as a beacon of light and hope during what is, for so many people, a lonely and confusing time.

Cox Green SOS was set up in March 2020.

Formed by volunteers who wanted to assist the most vulnerable and elderly in the community, the group matched them up with volunteers who would run errands and ensure they had enough supplies – as well as someone to talk to.

“We helped a lady who was shielding, and she needed certain food that she couldn’t get because of her health condition,” volunteer at Cox Green SOS, Sally Haseler, said.

“We supplied her for about three to four months with fresh food.”

Tasks such as dog walking, prescription pick-ups, befriending, and shopping trips have been carried out by Cox Green SOS, which also works with Maidenhead Foodshare to identify the people most in need.

Sally, the wife of Maidenhead councillor Phil, has described her experiences over the past year as ‘inspiring’.

“We are not doing it for thanks. We are doing it because there are people out there that need our help,” she added. “We all have to remain hopeful that we will not go into another lockdown and that some sort of normality will resume.

“I do not think that anybody could have predicted that we would be in this situation. It has been inspiring in many ways seeing how many people there are that wanted to help.”

About 150 volunteers are now helping out, and Sally wants to make Cox Green SOS a permanent thing.

“It is a long-term aim, not just for the pandemic, for people to know that we are here if they need us,” she said.

Over in Holmanleaze, Maidenhead Mosque has taken on similar responsibilities during the pandemic to assist residents.

It too wants to ensure that the work it has done during the COVID-19 crisis is carried on in the future.

“We are going as long as we possibly can,” said Zia Mahiudin, a trustee at the mosque.

One of the main jobs Zia and his team have been doing is providing essential food parcels for vulnerable people and those shielding.

The project grew as more volunteers and donations came on board, and the mosque now has its sights set on working with the council to provide oxygen tanks in people’s homes, if they suffer with their breathing.

It also wants to reach out more into society by helping families with technology, and their bills.

“It has been a really difficult year, but we stepped up and supported the community in a really incredible way that can never be forgotten,” Zia said.

“We would never have imagined such a scenario.”

The mosque has also been recognised for its work during the crisis. It was one of three in the UK to be shortlisted for the ‘Best Outreach Service’ award at the British Beacon Mosque Awards 2020.

On tip of this, Zia says that it has been nominated for the Berkshire High Sheriff award 2021, with a ceremony taking place this month.

Maidenhead Mosque trustees preparing food boxes (above)

Acts of kindness like the two examples above continued throughout Maidenhead during the strange 12 months we have all endured, and are likely to carry on helping people as we steadily emerge into a post-virus world.

As very small steps are taken out of this latest lockdown, there is hope that the vaccine rollout is providing a light at the end of the tunnel.

More than 24.5million people have now received their first dose of a vaccine across the country, with 1,663,646 having had their second jab.

After months of figures telling us how many people we have lost to COVID each day, these new statistics paint a more positive picture – a route out of the crisis.

And even as jabs continue to be put into people’s arms, volunteers like Sally and Zia will not be putting down their food parcels quite yet.

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