Local Hero: Mohammed Saeed, Community First

Mohammed is Vice Chair of Community First – a community group covering the Gladstone and Millfield area – and has been a tireless worker for the community for a number of years. When the pandemic hit, he was ready – but it also turned out to be what he calls ‘an eye-opener’…

You do work in your community on a regular basis – but how did things change when the pandemic started?
When the first lockdown commenced on 23 March, I started to have people telling me that there were a lot of vulnerable people who needed help. Because we had people clearing the shelves of all the essentials, many of them couldn’t get bread, eggs, and toilet paper and things like that. Then, as a result of seeing a message on Facebook we started helping one family where the mother had been taken into hospital and put on a respirator but the children were at home alone. This family didn’t have anybody in Peterborough. The closest friend that could help was in Essex, and she couldn’t come up because she had a lung condition. So, we started leaving them essentials at the door and then we were providing them a hot meal every evening. Once we started doing that it was just a case of putting the word out to see if there was anybody else that needed any assistance like that, or any vulnerable people that couldn’t go out. Then we were just inundated!

What kinds of people were needing help?
They were mainly senior citizens that couldn’t go out, or were too afraid to go out to just get the basic things you run out of all the time, like your bread, milk, fresh fruit and vegetables. We managed to source these from a local shop, where stores were plentiful, if you went to the supermarket, you’d problems. Even people who were before were too afraid to step into supermarket, and that left them lonely and isolated. I went into a sheltered housing scheme, delivering food parcels, and they hadn’t had any contact from the housing association that run that scheme. And it was just that we’d had contact come through for one person there, and we went to see her. And then all of a sudden, when we knocked on the other doors, there were all these people that were stuck in indoors, in small flats, with no gardens to go out to, because it’s a communal garden. And they were really worried. They didn’t know who to go to for help. So, we started shipping them stuff. And they were really appreciative. Some even wrote to the big companies that were supplying us with donated ready meals to say how thankful they were. It was an eye-opener, really, to see how many elderly, vulnerable people needed support in the community.

One of the things that we’re doing right now is tuition for young people. They’re another silent group that have suffered with this pandemic, missing out on education in school. So, we teamed up with Jack Hunt, and we’re working with Thomas Deacon Academy to set something up there. At Jack Hunt we’re doing tuition sessions several times a week in Maths, English and Science, and it’s free for children that the school identifies as needing that extra help.

Have some positives come out of this whole experience?
It definitely brings people together when we’re all in the same boat with the same issue. You know, we’ve all got to look after each other. We can have our differences – we can vote blue, we can vote red – but at the end of the day, we’re all human – flesh and blood – and we’ve all got to eat in order to survive. So, we’ve got to look after each other, no matter what happens. Obviously, it has its impact on health and everything else. But it has another impact, which creates bonds between communities. It makes them stronger and more resilient. And going forward, we really have to look at how we treat our elderly population, be lot of them just get forgotten, with connection to the outside world. A lot of loneliness arises from that.

See also: this issue’s interviews with local hero Revd Carol Avery and Peterborough Hub co-ordinator Wendi Ogle-Welbourn!

People who need help and support should get in touch with the Peterborough Community Resilience Group (AKA ‘Peterborough Hub’) by visiting the Coronavirus (COVID-19) information pages or by calling 01733 747474. The hub is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Organisations offering help city-wide can also be found on the Peterborough Information Network:

Further community coronavirus information can be found in the latest (Dec 2020) print issue of The Moment and online here.

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