Carol is a relative newcomer to Peterborough, having been here for just over a year. As a Pioneer Priest she is charged with going out into the community to help out – and over the last year has risen to that challenge, delivering food and hot meals, sourcing iPads for children’s home teaching and even personally clearing an elderly resident’s overgrown garden. We talked to her.
First of all, you have this title of ‘Pioneer Priest’… Can you explain what that is?
A Pioneer Priest is a priest who is breaking new ground – what it says on the tin really! My husband’s the priest in charge of three churches in Stanground and Farcet, so he’s responsible for the mainstream running of the church. I still do some traditional church work, but I also get to do all sorts of things in the community. It’s an exciting role! Obviously, with the pandemic it’s been working out how we respond to that.
How did things change when that happened?
When the pandemic hit we’d only been here about four months, so we hardly knew anyone. But we were aware that we were in an area where there is some hardship, and that there were families that couldn’t afford food or presents at Christmas. So, last Christmas we did a reverse advent calendar, putting a basket at the back and asking people to give a present each day instead of taking one. By the end of Christmas we had a lovely stock of food parcels and gifts which went out through schools and to families who struggle at Christmas. Then we set up what we call parish pantries. The big food banks do a fantastic job, but sometimes there are local needs where someone needs food urgently and can’t get to a food bank. So, we had these parish pantries all set up, then when the pandemic struck I rang the Council and said we had these stocks and were happy to share what we’ve got. We’ve been very involved with the Council since. We’ve helped with some tricky situations when needed, where people couldn’t get out and we’ve taken food, toiletries, toilet rolls, and other household things. I think we’ve provided around 5,000 meals, predominately working through referrals from the Council, and we’re busy collecting presents and food for this Christmas.
Is all the food donated?
It’s our congregation and our communities that give us the food and everything else we needed. I’d get sacks of potatoes arriving, trays of eggs, bags of tins and cereals. I had some families who needed clothes and other household things so we provided some clothes and shoes. We’re also supporting an asylum seeker who needs all sorts. Surprising what people need sometimes. But if I need certain things, I just put it up on Facebook, and it arrives! So, it’s the community – and it has just been amazing. Our church community has just been so generous, and every week things are still arriving.
Is mental wellbeing an issue under lockdown too?
Loneliness is huge and we have several people who cry when you arrive. One man in particular couldn’t get out and about and get food. When we got the phone call from the Council, he hadn’t eaten for three days. We took him parcels every week until Age UK picked it up. He cried every time we arrived. I had young family… Mum had a baby right at the beginning of lockdown, the baby was born a month early and she had a caesarean but they sent her home from hospital early because they were worried about her getting COVID. Something went wrong with her benefits and we had to support her with every item of food, nappies and baby milk for 10 weeks, because it took that long for the benefits to come through. She rang the Council and we got sent out to help her. She said ‘Without that, what would I have done?’
For some people it has been about contact – someone to talk to if they’ve got problems. The Council have been fantastic in that. We’ve had a really good relationship, the Council, our churches, Social Services and other agencies we have had to be in touch with. We’ve all pulled together. I’m part of an interfaith group, so sometimes I’d be on the doorstep alongside someone from the Hindu temple – we all just did what we could. And I think that will need to happen for quite a long time yet.
It’s been said that the worst brings out the best – have you found that?
It does bring out the best in people, honestly. The generosity… The things I’ve had turning up on my doorstep! I’ve had several people give me all the stuff from their allotment so I could take fresh food to people. I’ve had marrows and tomatoes and courgettes, beautiful, beautiful things. People have been so generous. So, we’re busy filling our pantries, collecting Christmas presents and trying to work out how we make Christmas a good experience, just trying to carry the joy wherever we can.
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. www.peterborough.gov.uk/coronavirus
Organisations offering help city-wide can also be found on the Peterborough Information Network: www.peterborough.gov.uk/healthcare/peterborough-information-network