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Thank you, Cheshire!

When the pandemic took hold in 2020, we knew we would need to act fast to establish a fund, and drastically streamline our processes to get support out to those in crisis immediately. The Covid-19 Response Fund was set up and applications came in thick and fast. Luckily, so did donations, and we were overwhelmed by the generosity of the people of Cheshire and Warrington. The National Emergency Trust and DCMS got us off to a substantial start through the UK Community Foundations network, as a way to ensure national funds got to every corner of each region. We received online donations daily, from people who had never donated to CCF before, as well as substantial amounts from our longer term supporters, giving us a final total of just over half a million pounds. As our team adjusted to working remotely, homeschooling and isolating alongside the rest of the country, they had a single goal in mind: to ensure every penny went where it was needed.

You, the donors, have supported an astounding range of projects through this fund, and significantly changed lives. Mental health has always been a priority but the pandemic triggered a crisis for thousands of people. From supporting the mental health of people with Parkinson’s and their families, to online guidance for new parents struggling with bonding, and from self-referral pathways for young men, to counselling for bereaved schoolchildren, the small charities of Cheshire and Warrington found every possible way to provide a listening ear.

Loneliness and isolation were an inevitable result of the restrictions, and thousands of pounds in grants went to wellbeing arts projects, care packages, technology to connect hospital patients with their families, and most of all, telephone befriending services. We’ve all experienced the powerful impact of a friendly voice on the line, brightening another lockdown day. But the reality for many was that the phone wasn’t going to ring, so the positive impact of these seemingly simple projects is tremendously powerful.

At East Cheshire Hospice, the staff were providing a Hospice@Home service, giving end of life care to patients wishing to remain at home rather than enter a hospital setting during the pandemic. These nurses were often the only visitors to the isolating clients and their families throughout the entire lockdown and palliative process, thus carrying an emotional burden as well as the risk of infection, and this began to take its toll on their wellbeing. Your donations meant a CCF grant paid for professional counselling services for those staff, helping them process a traumatic and emotional experience at work. This intervention will doubtless have saved many from burnout and kept many more in the caring profession they love, providing the support their clients so desperately need.

Many of our grants are for practical help. At YMCA Crewe your funding supported all their clients to navigate the restrictions safely, including a resident who had to shield due to his cancer treatment. He was confined to his room for the lockdown, and would have been at significant risk using the shared kitchen facilities. The CCF grant paid for a kettle and toaster for his room, additional staffing to prepare and deliver meals to his door, and most importantly, mental health support to help him endure such extreme isolation.

Other practical grants went to foodbanks, to making community halls and hubs covid-safe to operate, community transport services adapted to provide deliveries instead of shopping trips, sound equipment to allow a church to livestream their services to the isolated congregation, and many hundreds of deliveries of hot meals, prescriptions and basic supplies.

At Warrington Foodbank, their number of clients in need doubled over just three weeks in spring. This kind of increase happened repeatedly through 2020 and 2021. The volunteers needed more time to collect the food donations due to covid safety, then had to make up and deliver parcels, rather than clients collecting them. We can all think back to the first weeks of the pandemic when supermarket shelves were bare or we were unable to go out to shop for food; this was a small taste of the anxiety around hunger that many Warrington families were already living with, due to food poverty. As redundancies rose and over a million people applied for benefits in one week alone, inevitably those already living on a knife-edge began to fall. In addition, those of us who always pop an item or two in the trolley for the foodbank were click-and-collecting instead, or the usual tins of beans or tomatoes weren’t on the shelf. Without your financial donations, Warrington Food Bank would have been unable to meet these needs. They represent the safety net that catches more local people than ever before, ensuring Cheshire families don’t go hungry.

Age UK Cheshire set up a telephone befriending service, where volunteers called an older person living in isolation. Your Covid-19 Response donations helped pay for this service to run for a year, making on average 93 calls per week.

“My telephone friend phones me twice a week. I can talk to her. I have more confidence in myself. I used to think of death everyday, but now I have something to look forward to with my telephone friend. We chat like old friends and I can text her if I need to.

“I cannot praise Age UK Cheshire enough, I would like to thank the lady who helped me to get through Covid-19. I am 90 and live on my own, the telephone call came out of the blue just when I needed it most.

This is the difference those online donations make to a real person in our community.

In Winsford, teenagers had nowhere to go in the evenings resulting in incidents of antisocial behaviour, aggression and violence, drug and alcohol use, and even exploitation and radicalisation. Adding isolation, homeschooling and closure of all recreational activities exacerbated this problem. For many young people, 2020 was beginning to represent a turning point onto a very negative path. Winsford Youth and Community Forum received a small grant to set up a Saturday Night project, providing a safe place for these young people to divert them from risky behaviours. They paid two youth workers, and offered food and resources, as well as meeting all the covid safety guidelines. An intervention like this may be cheap to set up but the impact can be life-changing, proving that even the smallest one-off donation really does make a difference.

These are just a few examples of the 50+ projects you funded, which reached across every locality in our region, supporting people of every age group, in an astoundingly diverse range of ways. For us, the pandemic really highlighted some unique things about Cheshire: the incredible variety of charitable organisations, the energy and enthusiasm of its volunteers, and the breathtaking generosity of its residents.

The High Sheriff of Cheshire at the time was Nick ‘Hoppy’ Hopkinson, who worked tirelessly raising donations for this fund, and the lifechanging impact of these projects is a fitting tribute to his memory.