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COVID-19: Remembering a year of loss, love and lockdowns in Slough

Community members have been reflecting on a ‘year like no other’ as this week marked 12 months since the announcement of the first coronavirus lockdown.

On Tuesday the nation paused for a minute’s silence to remember those who lost their lives to COVID-19.

Slough has felt the impact of the virus more than many other local authorities with 15,006 people – approximately one in 10 – testing positive over the course of the pandemic.

The borough has also lost 328 people to COVID-19, including beloved family members, frontline NHS staff and serving borough councillor Shabnum Sadiq.

Council leader James Swindlehurst released a video on Tuesday reflecting on the crisis.

He said: “The year has been one like no other for all of us.

“I, and I’m sure many of you, have lost colleagues, friends and loved ones to this terrible disease.

“I know the council staff have lost many members and family, we’ve lost one of our own councillors.

“For others, the battle with COVID has been lengthy and difficult.”

Staff at the Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Wexham Park in Slough and Heatherwood in Ascot, also paid tribute this week to four colleagues who have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Healthcare assistant Elvira Bucu, who passed away on April 3, was described as a ‘ray of sunshine’ by those who worked with her at Heatherwood Hospital.

Prem Lal dedicated almost 11 years of service to Wexham Park Hospital working as a associate practitioner in histopathology, the study of tissue diseases, before her death on April 19.

Long-serving procurement pharmacy manager Mina Paragpuri passed away in December, while Rajesh Gurung, a member of the housekeeping team at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, died on Saturday, March 6.

The council’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing, Councillor Natasa Pantelic, praised the work of the voluntary sector for rallying to support those in need during the pandemic.

Hundreds of volunteers enlisted in the One Slough partnership at the start of the pandemic to help deliver medicine and hot food to those stuck in doors and provide support for those suffering loneliness.

The initiative saw almost 15,000 hot meals delivered to vulnerable people and frontline NHS workers during the first six months of the pandemic as well as more than 7,000 prescriptions dropped to people’s doors.

Slough Outreach volunteers rustled up hot meals for the vulnerable at Langley College in the early months of the pandemic.

In the Royal Borough, the West Windsor Hub was also set up to serve residents, recruiting up to 50 volunteers in the early stages of the pandemic.

During the period from its launch until December 2020, the hub and its volunteers completed nearly 6,500 tasks.

“This is phenomenal and testament to the community spirit that exists in Windsor between residents, local businesses and one another,” said Carole Da Costa, chairwoman of the hub and also a Windsor councillor for the West Windsor Residents’ Association.

Many community groups are looking to carry on their operations post-COVID, and Carole is confident this will also be the case for the hub.

There are plans to become a registered charity, with an application form already sent to the Charity Commission.

Cllr Pantelic said: “Locally, I’ve been absolutely inspired and amazed and so grateful to everyone that has stepped up in Slough to help with medicines or food and that vulnerable people get a phone call if they are shielding.

“I’m also thinking about the people that we have lost, residents that have lost loved ones and on the council of course we lost Cllr Shabnum Sadiq.

“Everyone has got a story of someone they’ve lost unfortunately and in spite of all the great things that have happened with people stepping up to help, there’s also that layer of sadness because it has been really tough for many people.”

Ramesh Kukar, chief executive of Slough Council for Voluntary Service, said volunteers in the town have shown a passion to do ‘whatever it takes’ to support people.

More than 1,000 volunteers are still helping out with the COVID-19 recovery, including at the Salt Hill Mass Vaccination Centre.

He said attention must now turn to help those who have been left isolated and lonely due to government restrictions on socialising during the pandemic.

“I hadn’t appreciated how much loneliness was already out there and that has just been exacerbated by COVID,” he said.

“The good thing is we’ve now identified people who have asked for help and between us and the council we’ve got a database of about 5,000 people.

“For me the biggest issue has been digital exclusion and there are a lot of people who can’t connect with the outside world very easily because they don’t have the equipment.”

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