In 2009 ARC was very concerned and concentrated much time developing a community action plan to respond to H1N1 (Swine flu), thankfully it wasn’t needed and it was (admittedly not very neatly), filed away in my office. When the global news stories of Coronavirus reached us, we dug out the plan, filed as Flu Friends. It was with some alarm that I realised the plan was not appropriate to this new and emerging virus, much of the plan involved supplying anti-viral mediation to people in need. There was no anti viral medication for Coronavirus, so what can we and what should we safely do?

At ARC we believe we can still be a friend, but from a safe distance and we can ensure people that need to stay at home are safely supported to do so. What about people that don’t have a home? We need to also speak out now on behalf of vulnerable people and ensure there are safe places for homeless people to go to self isolate too.

Many people are stock piling goods, we are asking our staff, volunteers and community to spare a thought for people who are living week to week, or day to day and can’t afford the basics. Now is the time to donate to a foodbank, or share with someone you know who may be struggling.

We know our children are not particularly at risk of this virus, but 16 weeks without school will bring a whole new set of risks, physical, psychological, educational and social. No familiar structure, reduced peer engagement, no free school meals and no formalised childcare. It will also present challenges to our staff, who much like everybody else are trying to balance responsibilities.

For 20 years ARC delivered 6 week summer programmes, this year we probably won’t be able to deliver in the same way as usual. Parents will need to support their children and each other, we will share resources and creative, affordable ideas for staying home and staying safe (and sane).

Last Friday I had a conversation with a local Minister, who wanted to know if church members could play a part in supporting those who are or will be self isolating and perhaps also infected in the near future. Rev Thompson had spoken to the other church leaders, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist all (as you would expect in Irvinestown) wanted to work together to serve the community. The result is that the ARC team have a form of action that is taking shape that all are invited to be a part of.

At the ARC we have systems in place that can move into action very quickly. Our directors and staff are inviting volunteers to be a part of the ARC programmes of support. There will be vetting (completed very quickly) and training included.

There are many types of support to be offered and volunteers may be needed for each.
Chit Chat Project. A phone call to someone (self isolating by choice or direction) at agreed times on a phone supplied be the ARC (so no private numbers are used). In cases of no-response a nominated family member or other person, who has granted permission is contacted to check on the persons wellbeing. This form of support can be done by anyone but might be especially appropriate for staff that have been redeployed from current roles.

Telephone based family support / low threshold addiction support, our highly skilled staff team will be maintaining contact with families / vulnerable people and applying the above models of intervention.

In cases where there is no family to deliver basic shopping needs, a volunteer can pick up shopping/pharmacy items and deliver them. The client or a nominated family member will make the order and payment with a local shop over the phone. No hard cash will change hands avoiding potential allegations or contamination. The volunteer will not enter the house at any time. The volunteer will not be contacted directly by the client and all arrangements will be via the ARC.

There are clearance forms available at from the ARC Centre, Sallyswood. Potential volunteers can complete part online and then bring the forms with two forms of ID to the ARC. The ID can be a utility bill from within the last 6 months, driving licence or passport. The community should be aware no ARC staff member or volunteer will ever seek payment or bank account details, the community will be advised that if they are contacted by anyone asking for such details to report it straight away to PSNI.

In the midst of all of this there is resilience and humour, and we will need both to sustain us, to ensure we take the situation seriously, but be assured we won’t spread fear and panic. It’s a time to combine calm heads and kind hearts. We can safely spread kindness and compassion and raise the spirts of people who may be desperately frightened.