Posted 2 June 2021
As part of Rural Community Network’s ‘In This Together Project’ telling of good news stories of how communities have pulled together during this COVID-19 crisis Patricia McQuillan, Moneydig Rural Network, Garvagh tells how the virus has brought the community together through local actions and activities.
What actions have taken place at a local level?
Since 20th March 2020, our small rural community group, Moneydig Rural Network in Garvagh, has been on the ground helping the most vulnerable people in our remote isolated area.
We were very aware that the majority of our older residents and those ‘at risk’ were already self-isolating, but when we delivered the very first food and warm packs we couldn’t believe how much, many of them were suffering from loneliness. Many had not seen anybody for weeks – there were actually tears at some of the doors. We knew that our support would be needed until the crisis ended.
On 24th March we were offered free food from Gregg’s in Coleraine and we actually fed 100 people for two days.
When the Council announced it was starting to deliver free food boxes we registered the majority of our vulnerable residents with the service, and then took over the delivery of these – we’ve been so busy we had to hire a minibus to help! We wait for calls each morning, and have been completing over 100 deliveries every week – the bus means we can carry lots of supplies, so we’ve been able to supply food, coal, newspapers, plus still adhering to the social distancing rules with our volunteers.
We realised though that the Council food boxes didn’t cover all the essentials – things like soap, toothpaste, and disinfectant – so we started to apply for grants to help us buy these. We have set up a food and hygiene store in Moneydig. We also started receiving requests for help from those who weren’t eligible for the food boxes, but hadn’t been able to work – people who were young but self-isolating, or the self-employed – and who were unable to feed their families. The grants from The Prince’s Countryside Fund, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Halifax Foundation, the National Community Lottery Fund, NIHE, Neighbourly Community Fund and the NI Executive have allowed us to provide these people with food boxes too; and it has meant that we can provide people with fresh vegetables and meat from the local butcher. The butcher follows our minibus to make deliveries of fresh food to bolster the store cupboard essentials in the food boxes.
We have been supporting those having operations and treatments, with hospital care packs. We have also supported local folds and care homes with hygiene packs. We gave out local carers and nurses, personal care packs with hand sanitisers etc to keep them safe.
Our group has assisted 100s with benefit forms and we have supported small businesses and self employed with their grants. We have been supporting groups with grant forms too and have been involved in the creation of a new group In Articlave with volunteers that came together to feed the residents.
We are organising start back packs for the small rural businesses and these contain all that is needed to get businesses ready and keep everyone safe when they eventually get opened. These contain disposable masks, material washable masks, gloves, visors, hand sanitiser, disinfectant, kitchen roll, bleach and hand wash. We are also providing toiletries for their bathrooms.
We are working daily to sort all the different packs, and these grants have been brilliant as it means we can deliver exactly what our vulnerable community members need.
What are the challenges to your work?
We have never experienced food poverty like this before and we are such a small rural group making a massive difference in this huge crisis.
To help with the loneliness and mental health issues we have tried to involve the ones shielding in our events. So when we brought chip and ice cream vans to Moneydig to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day, we fed 120 and the whole community came together delivering to the ones that couldn’t get out.
This was such a success that two weeks later we had a vintage tea delivered to all our residents and we also had a live band and dancers to entertain the locals. They visited Garvagh, Aghadowey and Moneydig.
How do you feel adversity has brought communities together (either within or between)?
Our group was asked to join a COVID-19 Garvagh area group, and here there are various groups and businesses from our surrounding areas taking part in Zoom meetings. We have supported each other with supplying ones with food and hygiene packs and ones from this group helping with the delivering of these. There was a support hub set up in Garvagh and there are games, books, toys, jigsaws etc to help with the boredom. There is also some food and hygiene supplies for the public to avail of. Businesses have also donated to keep this going. But we thought the public needed some thing lighthearted to concentrate on so we organised a ‘Community’s Got Talent’ and we had 64 entries, which was far more than we expected. The NIHE funded this project and the videos are being put on Facebook daily to entertain the public. We also plan to have a picnic in the park with a live band playing.
We have been involved in various Zoom meetings and have had all our NIHE meetings as well as the working groups and forums we sit on too are still keeping up all the good work that was started before the lockdown.
What are your hopes for the future?
We hope to keep supporting the community after this crisis and has ended up with new volunteers because of this work. So we will celebrate all the good work when we are on the other side.Youtube - Moneydig Rural Network