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‘Islington People’s Army’ of volunteers takes to the streets

As fears over coronavirus grow, groups across the borough organise themselves to help those most in need

20 March, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Coronavirus volunteers visiting residents. From left: Jessica Kleczka, Katherine Gilroy and Nicolas Oh (Credit: Jonathan Perugia / GaiaVisual)

VOLUNTEER groups, with some calling themselves the “Islington People’s Army”, have popped up around the borough to help the vulnerable and elderly during the coronavirus outbreak.

Hundreds of residents have volunteered to bring groceries, help with laundry or just be available for a chat on the phone as the government advised those over the age of 70 to self-isolate.

Oliver John Shannon, who lives in Drayton Park, helped set up the Islington People’s Army which has gone around the borough dropping flyers in homes to offer support to anyone in need.

He told the Tribune: “We are a group of local residents in Islington who are looking to help those in need and those affected by the virus.”

Another volunteer, Jeannette La, who lives in Angel, said: “Everything right now is a bit scary because as a society we haven’t been in a situation of this scale before and everything is new territory.

Barbara Newell, who is 65, shopping at Iceland in Junction Road, Archway

“My heart is breaking for everyone who is at risk, not only the people who may get sick, but also the restaurant workers, the theatre workers and all of the lovely shop workers and owners in the area.

“I know this will fundamentally change the world, but hopefully, by everyone banding together and helping each other, the change won’t permanently be for the worse.”

She added: “The thought of not helping never really crossed my mind – it was more a matter of watching and waiting to see how I could best help.”

Dozens of other groups have sprung up under the “Mutual Aid” banner.

They have set up social media accounts, through WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, that are divided up into the council ward boundaries.

Jessica Kleczka, who is an Islington volunteer, calling in on a resident (Credit: Jonathan Perugia / GaiaVisual)

Kelsey Mohammed, 28, who lives in St George’s ward off Holloway Road, set up the original Islington Facebook group which the other ward groups have emerged from.

She said: “It’s been really amazing to see how people are willing to come together over this issue.

“In London, there can be a real lack of neighbourly support and it has been really nice to see that that is not the case at the moment.”

Nicholas Oh, who was delivering flyers around the Bemerton estate in Barnsbury, said: “The words of encouragement from the community that we have received while flyering, running errands and delivering essential equipment, have only spurred us to do more.

“In the absence of adequate action from the government, we’re going to be increasingly relying on each other as a safety net.”

Volunteer Nicolas Oh delivers important coronavirus crisis information (Credit: Jonathan Perugia / GaiaVisual)

Meanwhile, supermarkets have rationed the number of items shoppers can buy at once to try to calm panic buying.

Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Iceland have also introduced times where only the elderly are allowed to shop.

Barbara Newell, 65, went to the Iceland store in Junction Road, Archway, from her home in Holloway on Wednesday morning to get toilet roll for herself and her 90-year-old neighbour because everything had gone in the Holloway stores she went into.

She said: “It’s very depressing, to be honest.

“You can stay in for a couple of days but then you will get depressed and isolated.

“I think this time has allowed people to realise what life is about. No matter how much money you have, we are all in the same place. I think people need to look into themselves and be kinder.

“We need each other at this time.”

Peter, who did not want to give his surname, helped his elderly mother Pamela shop on Wednesday. Pamela said: “I’m glad the shops are opening for the elderly, it means we won’t get bumped around.”

Peter added: “These are crazy times. It’s like we’re on rations now.”


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