The West Essex local heroes

West Essex is full of heroes doing their bit

West Essex is full of heroes doing their bit - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

They say that the worst of times bring out the best in people, and these West Essex stars are a good case in point. We catch up with five locals to find out how they’ve been helping their communities during the Covid-19 pandemic

Jonathan Furness has been making visors for the NHS

Jonathan Furness has been making visors for the NHS - Credit: Archant

Jonathan Furness

Headteacher of St John’s C of E School in Buckhurst Hill, who has been busy making PPE visors for NHS staff and key workers

Before all this, I was just a DIY, 3D-printer enthusiast! I bought a printer about a year ago and worked on some projects for my garden and various other things. Then, when all of this kicked off, I got involved in an organisation called 3D Crowd UK; they had started an initiative that was all about printing a particular design of face mask for NHS workers, and at the time there were only about 100 other people involved. We agreed on a design for the visor and then all the volunteers were set to task. Now, I’m just one of about 7,000 volunteers who are creating these visors. One of my pupils at St John’s was keen to take part too, so her Nan managed to get hold of a 3D printer and they’ve been making some visors, so that’s a lovely spin off. Our priority was to get the visors to frontline hospitals because the situation was so desperate, whereby doctors and nurses were treating patients without sufficient PPE. Then we moved on to delivering them to our local doctors’ surgeries in places like Loughton, Buckhurst Hill and South Woodford, and we also recently gave some to a local hospice and care homes. There’s a real sense of pride in being able to turn a skill into something that is purposeful and useful. The children at St John’s have all been involved in fundraising activities for the NHS, doing everything from jumping on their trampolines to sponsored silences, and we’ve raised £5,000 as a community so far, which is phenomenal. We’ve also been running virtual assemblies, which is another way of bringing children together as a collective, and many staff members join in with these. One of our teachers took part in a sponsored cycle ride and produced a video of his journey so people have been able to engage with that directly too.

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Jon Holland, who has been helping to deliver Wow Hydrate drinks

Jon Holland, who has been helping to deliver Wow Hydrate drinks - Credit: Archant

Jon Holland

Buckhurst Hill local who has been helping Wow Hydrate to deliver energy drinks to NHS workers

Tyson Fury is one of Wow Hydrate’s main sponsors, and he donated up to 50,000 bottles to go to all NHS staff. We deliver them to local hospitals in Essex, but we’ve also sent them all around England too to all kinds of different places and businesses. These drinks are important because they have all the vitamins and goodness that you need to put back into your body after a hard day’s work – it’s just about giving a little bit back.

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I don’t want to take too much credit because it’s only dropping drinks off, and it’s nothing like what they’re doing in those hospitals, but we’re making sure people are hydrated and getting the vitamins they need. I think we need to do what we can to help, especially if you’re healthy and you’ve got time on your hands. My girlfriend is a care worker, so I understand how hard it is and how much pressure they’re under.

Heather, project manager at Epping Forest Foodbank

Heather, project manager at Epping Forest Foodbank - Credit: Archant

Heather Scholer

Project manager of Epping Forest Foodbank, which has been providing a huge amount of food and support to local families in need

Before this situation, we had three distribution centres, but as time went on and with the daily updates from the government, it narrowed our operations for how we could run smoothly and safely. Since the beginning of April, we’ve been on a delivery-only model, and we’ve been using the Hope Centre at St Mary’s Church in Loughton for our bag packing, with just a few volunteers on each session to maintain social distancing measures. We’ve then got a pool of drivers who will go and deliver to the doorstep of the households that have been referred to us. It has been an amazing feat of effort and dedication from all our volunteers; some have really stepped up and gone above and beyond their usual role. I want to say a massive thank you to everybody within the Epping Forest District for all their support – we’ve been hearing about neighbours organising a local drop off for us, and we’ve had so many calls from gyms, pubs, farm shops and even a cinema who want to deliver food to us. Because we’re part of the Trussell Trust, we have an ongoing relationship with Tesco, so they pledge a certain amount of food every week. We also work with other supermarkets, and often collect packages from Marks and Spencer that contain things like bunches of flowers and potted plants – popping that into the delivery really makes somebody’s day. We’re still here and we are still open right across the Epping Forest district, and it’s really important for people who are experiencing a financial crisis at the moment to contact the relevant agency so that they can get the right support. That agency will then be able to refer them to a Foodbank

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Frank Charles has been volunteering in his local community

Frank Charles has been volunteering in his local community - Credit: Archant

Frank Charles

Founder of the Frank Charles Give a Gift Appeal, and has been delivering food and other essential supplies to vulnerable people in his local community

I set up the Frank Charles Give a Gift Appeal in memory of my son Ashley, who died at 23 months old from the same condition that I was born with, and which meant that I spent the first five years of my life at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Unfortunately, it wasn’t picked up in my son and he died in my arms. The Appeal aims to give presents to children and adults who are suffering from life-limiting illnesses. In 2010, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and cancer of the bone marrow, and they gave me five years at best. On my bucket list was to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and finally to officially set up my charity. So, in 2015 I cycled the whole length of the country and raised nearly £10,000 altogether and then the Haslers Foundation did all the charity paperwork for me. I’m ever so grateful to them because they’ve always been there for me and they’re a bit like family. There’s a section of the charity called Feed the Streetz, and as part of this I go out and feed homeless people and give them a breakfast meal every Friday. When the virus broke out, I could see that shops were closing, and I was told about people losing jobs or being furloughed. I wanted to support people in the community, and I’m a volunteer for MacMillan Cancer Research at Whipps Cross Hospital, so for the first week I went there nearly every day and brought in everything from hand creams to cakes. I’ve also been supporting Project Malachi in Ilford which gives shelter to homeless people, as well as local fire and police stations. Whilst this has all been going on, I’ve been trying to feed families in need too and then refer them on to their local Foodbank. I also volunteer at Carpenters’ and Docklands Centre in Stratford on a Monday and Thursday, and recently I had an emotional journey because I went back to Great Ormond Street to drop off some presents.

The sense of community spirit is amazing. I’ve lived in Wanstead for 17 years and I’m now connected to other people here through the common goal of helping out, whereas normally we would just walk straight past each other. I always believe that out of every tragedy there is something positive, so I would like to think that we will maintain these new friendships.

St Margaret's Poplar Ward with scrubs made by the Nazeing group

St Margaret's Poplar Ward with scrubs made by the Nazeing group - Credit: Archant

Heather Fisher

A member of the Nazeing Village Scrubs Sewing Group and the Epping St John’s PTA

The inspiration for the scrubs sewing group came from two amazing people in our village who were doing work for local care homes, along with a huge group on Facebook called For the Love of Scrubs. I discussed it with my neighbour, Di Clark, and she picked the idea up and ran with it – she’s the more experienced sewer, so I said to her ‘you do the sewing, and I’ll do the rest’! I set up a Facebook page to raise funds for the blue material we needed to make the scrubs, and we raised £700 really quickly. We’ve just grown from there, and now we’ve got about 30 people helping with the sewing, which for a small village is quite a lot! I’d never sewn before, but my mum bought me a sewing machine, and I just learn from YouTube videos – it’s really therapeutic.

We decided that we would focus on supporting local organisations, so we recently delivered some scrubs, as well as a box of fresh fruit, to St Margaret’s Hospital in Epping, which has two wards dedicated to Covid-19 patients. The play sessionist on the children’s ward at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow also asked us to make some scrubs for her, because she said that the kids were getting scared because everyone looked the same – so now she’s got some PAW Patrol scrubs, and some with hearts all over them too! I’m also part of the PTA at Epping St John’s School and we’re working to collect supplies to donate too. We had a lot of PTA members who had nothing to organise as everything has been cancelled, so I contacted one of the teachers and she loved the idea and got everything organised with the school. The PTA were then straight onto a Zoom meeting! As a team we contacted all the local care homes and hospitals to ask them what they needed, and it went from there really – it was proper teamwork.