THE way communities pulled together in the early days of the pandemic has undoubtedly been one of the bright spots in an immensely dark period.

Nothing has embodied that blitz spirit quite like the community hub, which has seen an army of volunteers work night and day to ensure the most vulnerable people in St Helens are provided for in these extraordinary times.

The hub, based in Sutton Leisure Centre, was established at the end of March by St Helens Borough Council, with support from the military.

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A team of redeployed council staff have been stationed at the hub, tasked with coordinating the supply and distribution of food and other essential items to vulnerable residents who can’t get out to the shops.

Or in other cases, those who simply can’t afford to buy food and vital supplies.

Between March 30 and June 28, 1,275 food parcels – each packed with more than 20 items – have been delivered to the doorsteps of residents.

This included 162 children who were provided with food parcels during the May half-term holiday.

In addition to that, there have been 89 children’s food boxes delivered to support 178 children as part of the general food parcel offer.

St Helens Star: A team of redeployed council staff and volunteers have been stationed at the community hubA team of redeployed council staff and volunteers have been stationed at the community hub

One local resident who has depended on the service is 38-year-old unemployed single mum-of-four, Karen, from Thatto Heath.

“Do not struggle – phone up and get some help if you need it,” she said.

“With the kids being off, I had struggled for a while and then I heard about the hub through school.

“I rang up and got help straight away. The volunteers are absolutely brilliant and very nice – and stick to social distancing rules.

“It’s fabulous.”

The community hub forms part of St Helens Together – an initiative set up by St Helens Borough Council in partnership with a range of voluntary groups, brought together by HSVCA as a way of recruiting people who want to help those affected by the pandemic.

Paul Jameson is one of a number of volunteers whose day-to-day role has seen him collect and deliver shopping for people who are unable to leave their homes.

Paul, from Newton-le-Willows, applies for volunteering tasks through a mobile app and then contacts the resident for their shopping list, which he then goes out and buy before dropping it off.

“I felt that in these difficult times if there was something I could do to help somebody who was struggling with something as basic as getting their shopping done, it was the right thing to do,” he said.

“I believe that if you want to help yourself you need to help somebody else first.”

St Helens Star: St Helens Borough Council leader David Baines helping out the efforts at the hubSt Helens Borough Council leader David Baines helping out the efforts at the hub

Around two weeks after residents started receiving parcels, St Helens Borough Council and Torus Foundation launched a crowdfunding appeal to raise £25,000 to bolster the operation.

The council donated £25,000, which was match-funded by Torus Foundation – the charitable arm of the council’s social housing partner, Torus.

St Helens businessman, Andrew Mikhail, owner of the Mikhail Hotel and Leisure Group, also donated £10,000.

To date, £85,525 has been raised for the campaign.

Currently, councils can claim back from central government for people it has supported on the shielding list.

However, the shielding programme ends on July 31 and after that date, councils will not able to claim any further costs from government.

As the scale of the crisis shrinks and lockdown measures continue to ease, the demand for the hub’s services are also declining.

It is undeniable that the community hub has proved a vital lifeline for many vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

That said, question marks remain over how the operation will be funded moving forward.

St Helens Star: The community hub forms part of St Helens Together The community hub forms part of St Helens Together

“The things that we need to consider is the future exit strategy for this service, this provision and what that looks like,” Rob Huntington, St Helens Borough Council’s assistant chief executive, said this week.

“Because we are seeing a gradual increase in the need for food banks, or referrals to food banks as these parcels start decreasing.

“But also how this might be funded going forward. There’s a little bit of lack of clarity on that the moment.”

While life may now be slowly getting back to normal, the months and years ahead look particularly perilous for St Helens.

The council is looking at a huge funding gap and economically, St Helens is expected to have the second biggest slowdown in the Liverpool City Region.

This is down to a high concentration of sectors that are predicted to decline in the wake of the crisis, and puts thousands of jobs at risk.

What that means is that more people than ever are going to need support in the months and years to come.

They are going to need people to rally round in the same way they did at the beginning of this pandemic.

They are going to need St Helens to be together as one.

St Helens Star: The community hub operation has seen hundreds of food parcels delivered to the most vulnerable The community hub operation has seen hundreds of food parcels delivered to the most vulnerable

Cllr David Baines, leader of St Helens Council, said: “From witnessing first-hand the incredible work going on behind the scenes at the community hub to meeting and hearing from inspirational staff and volunteers responsible for ensuring our most vulnerable have everything they need during such a turbulent time – the St Helens response to COVID-19 has been nothing short of outstanding.

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“I’ve said all along that we would get through this situation together and knowing that all this amazing work is being carried out in our communities gives me every faith that we will.”

If you or someone you know would benefit from some help, whether it’s getting food and supplies, walking the dog or just someone to talk to, contact the St Helens Together on 01744 676767.

The helpline is open seven days a week from 8am to 10pm.

Alternatively, email