“IT’S time to pull together.”

That’s how a front page headline of the Star read back in March when the pandemic began to take its grip on the nation and it became clear we were heading into lockdown.

And as the coronavirus crisis unfolded before our eyes, there were plenty across the borough who stood up to be counted.

Martin Blondel is a man known to many Star readers, largely for his role as a driving force in the Steve Prescot Foundation.

As people began to panic buy in the early days of the crisis, Martin was struck by a video of a nurse crying because she couldn’t find provisions after long hospital shifts.

He contacted Eccleston Arms owner Andy Mikhail and they turned the venue into an essential stores for NHS staff and the elderly.

Amateur rugby league club players from Blackbrook took on roles as delivery drivers and their efforts swiftly gathered momentum with the likes of Johnny Vegas and Paul Sculthorpe getting on board to send out supplies to people isolating at home.

With anxiety and nervousness over the danger the invisible enemy of Covid-19, posed, the efforts of the team were pivotal in keeping morale up around the town.

Social media was a key tool in spreading the message and with Vegas on board it catapulted their mission to another level as the comedian’s “old pal” Russell Crowe, of Gladiator fame, posted a message of support on Twitter, which went viral.

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The Eccy Arms gang were one of many generous groups who went the extra mile and they all deserved a medal.

In Martin’s case, he actually picked up a gong, with The Telegraph newspaper naming him the Community Hero in their Lockdown Awards.

Reflecting on the collective effort earlier this year, Martin said: “Andrew enrolled his phenomenal staff and the services of the exceptional Blackbrook ARLFC.

“Over 50 people in total when lockdown broke, all played their part in the protection and support of our NHS heroes, elderly and vulnerable.

“When it became evident that our service needed to be expanded, as ever our SPF ambassadors came to the fore; Lee Briers; Tommy Martyn; Martin Murray and Paul Sculthorpe MBE.

“And Saint Johnny Vegas who took the Essential Items to another level. When JV sent me the Russell Crowe video, I have to admit I cried.

For Johnny Vegas, the time away from working in London and spending a long spell in his hometown helping people helped him with the grief of losing his parents.

Johnny, whose real name is Michael Pennington, went out and about delivering food to those in need, assisting charities and showing his support for our town.

The proud Sintelliner had always been full of praise for his home, but he says lending a hand during people’s time of need has helped to “heal” him.

Speaking to the Star earlier this year, the dad-of-two, said: “Right at the beginning of lockdown I was determined I wouldn’t do lockdown in London, as I’m there for my lad really who is in school there. So we both decided to pop in the car and come up here and honestly it was the best decision.

“I love coming home to see family and friends but I’ve also wanted to keep busy to stop me going over tough things in my life, particularly losing my mum just before (last) Christmas and my dad a couple of years before that.

“I always get asked to help and I never have time and I hate that, so now in the real crisis we are all facing I was made up to get involved with the Steve Prescott Foundation and feel reconnected to my hometown.

“Nowhere else could I help out and people say, ‘I remember your mum from bingo’, or ‘I used to work with your dad’, it wasn’t about that at first but I love that, it’s really helped me grieve because I was angry before and now I like hearing about them and doing my bit to help.

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“It’s great because when I’m home I’m not Johnny Vegas, I’m Mike Pennington from Thatto Heath, just helping out like anyone else and that’s why I love St Helens.

“Just being here to do my bit helped heal me in a difficult time, because it’s home. It’s always going to be my home and this has proved to me more than ever that this is where I need to be.”

He said: “You know what, us here get put down on sometimes, we’ve lost some of our big industries like other towns in the North post Thatcher and it’s not easy, but we are strong here and this has shown that because where else did one community come together like this?

“We can show what we are capable of in a crisis, then why not do it all the time?

“Businesses didn’t mope about they set about helping others, and I feel honoured to have been able to help, because that’s all I did, I was like everyone else doing my bit.

“It’s been a chance for me to get back to what I love too, do up the house with my lad which is great, and I went fishing with him (my eldest son) up Thatto Heath dam like I used to with my dad and he caught a decent bream, that was special that, I got back to here and remembered the good times and I really needed that.

“I love London, I’ve never struggled to make friends but this is my spiritual home, it’s the people, the town, rugby obviously but it’s more than that, I just love it here.”

Nothing embodied that blitz spirit quite like the community hub based at Sutton Leisure Centre, 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.

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

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

The community hub forms part of St Helens Together – an initiative set up by St Helens Council in partnership with a range of voluntary groups.

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.

More than £85,525 was raised for the campaign.