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Covid-19: Community Response

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 24 June 2021

I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will also be suspensions between each debate. I remind Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive for the start of debates in Westminster Hall and are expected to remain for the entire debate. I must also remind Members participating virtually that they must leave their camera on for the duration of the debate, and that they will be visible at all times to one another and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks at westminsterhallclerks@ Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room. I also remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the role of the community in responding to the covid-19 outbreak.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I start by thanking so many Members from across parties who were kind enough to support the application for this debate to the Backbench Business Committee. It is wonderful to see so many here in person and online.

I called for the debate to give Members a fantastic opportunity to formally recognise the unprecedented and undoubtedly life-saving support that local community groups and their members have provided to those most vulnerable and in need during the covid-19 pandemic. I know I speak for so many when I say thank you to each and every person who has sacrificed in service of their neighbour and their community over these difficult and traumatic months. They are absolutely the unsung heroes of the pandemic, and their dedication and sacrifice, exemplified by the late Captain Sir Tom Moore and all his fundraising efforts, are an absolute inspiration to us all.

If anything positive at all can be taken from this pandemic, it is that it has shone a light on the strength of community spirit that has emerged through the local groups and individuals who have delivered support to those most in need. We would do well in the House to hold their sacrifice at the forefront of our minds as we look towards creating a brighter future out of the pandemic. I want to celebrate the work of several support networks in my constituency whose care and support for those in need over the past 16 months cannot be overstated: the East Kilbride Covid-19 Network, which includes organisations such as Share Alike; our local food bank, Loaves and Fishes; Moncreiff Parish Church; the East Kilbride Community Food Bank; Older & Active; and VASLAN, or Volunteer Action South Lanarkshire. The East Kilbride Covid-19 Network has provided hundreds of thousands of meals over the course of the pandemic and has packed and distributed thousands of toiletry parcels and hundreds of mental health and special birthday packs.

I also pay particular tribute to Denis Curran MBE and his wonderful wife Cathie, who recently announced that they are retiring from their roles at the heart of the Loaves and Fishes food bank in East Kilbride after nearly 30 years of dedicated service. I submitted early-day motion 113 celebrating their service to the local community through Loaves and Fishes and urge hon. Members to consider signing it. We owe it to Denis and Cathie, and all those we pay tribute to today, to ensure that future generations grow up without the need for food banks, an area of support that has grown exponentially during the pandemic.

I also celebrate the work of Avondale community support group, which as part of Working Together for Avondale has been working with Strathaven and Glassford Community Council, Sandford and Upper Avondale Community Council, Strathaven Business Association, Strathaven Evangelical Church, Outreach Community Church, Avondale LEAP, Glassford Community Group, Strathaven Foodbank, Avondale Young Farmers and Sandford Giving Tree.

The Avondale community support group has put together a series of mindfulness sessions, which is quite unique, with local business Mind Marvels, has founded four peer support groups, and also ran an online family fun day earlier this month. It put together 200 craft kits for summer holidays in partnership with Creative Strathaven, and has worked with local restaurant Taal Cuisine and with Ann Davidson Butchers to provide food vouchers and food parcels, and with Climate Action Strathaven, which has kindly offered its hub as the food parcel outlet.

I also want to mention the work of the Blackwood and Kirkmuirhill Resilience Group and its support for the local area, through the establishment of an emergency call centre and distribution team, which has been travelling throughout Blackwood and Kirkmuirhill to provide emergency support and supplies to those most in need throughout the pandemic.

The Blackwood and Kirkmuirhill Resilience Group, run by the wonderful local lady Lesley Speedie, who has been in constant touch with me, has based its response on community recovery, community spaces and climate action challenges. It has also put on numerous events throughout the pandemic, including a children’s “Kindness Rocks” campaign, where young children painted rocks in the local community to brighten up local spaces. It has delivered spring flowers to isolated residents from Allison’s Flowers and ordered fish teas for elderly residents —I would have liked one of those myself, but I did not get one. The much-attended virtual online bingo has been a huge success. The group also organised a Santa parade at Christmas for all in the community to enjoy.

I must pay special tribute to South Lanarkshire Council’s community engagement team, in particular Heather Robertson and Brian Borland, who have gone so far beyond their official remits to help to facilitate, co-ordinate and empower the abundance of good will and generosity that has poured out of our local community.

It is vital for us to remember that many of the community groups in our constituencies would not have been able to do all that they could without vital financial support from our local businesses and community funds. With that in mind, I would like to thank Banks Renewables, Falck Renewables, the Sandford and Upper Avondale Community Council, Kirkmuirhill Second Chance Shop and our local Co-op, for all the financial support they have provided throughout the pandemic for our wonderful local efforts.

I also want to thank the Trust Jack Foundation in Stonehouse, which has supported young people’s mental health recovery—that is going to be so vital as we move ahead in the coming months—and NHS Lanarkshire psychological services, led by Dr Gary Tanner, with innovative online psychology programmes led by Professor Jim White. They have ensured that mental health and wellbeing have been prioritised in my constituency throughout the pandemic.

Many of the unsung heroes of the pandemic have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that daily lives continue to function. In that, I include pharmacies across the constituency and the UK, which provide a vital medicine supply, food and grocery stores, and factories and all their essential staff, as well as our local high streets, including the corporates who were so good locally and regularly kept in touch with me to provide special deliveries for the most vulnerable. I include bus and train drivers—all of those in public transport companies who kept going through the pandemic, ensuring that essential staff in our NHS and social care could travel safely to work and turned up for their roles, day in, day out, despite their own concerns about the pandemic.

I thank the essential council staff who provided care, support and maintenance of our local communities, and those emergency frontline staff of the police—including Police Scotland—the fire brigade, paramedics and the emergency response units. All of these services are vital, but many have perhaps gone less recognised than others. Not today. We salute their fortitude and dedication to our lives and our safety.

An amazing group has taken off in East Kilbride during the pandemic: East Kilbride Community Litter Pickers, led by the inspirational Alice Alves. Her motto and mine is “Take pride in East Kilbride”. There are now thousands of litter pickers across my constituency who work every week to clean up our town and local landscape, making such a difference to our outlook, taking pride in our area, our villages and our town, and showing that we care about our environment.

I thank the local schools who have helped—Our Lady of Lourdes, Calderglen High and Duncanrig Secondary, my own former school. They have been engaging in this work, and the Boys’ Brigade has also been collecting litter across the area as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. They are making a vast difference, helping with positivity and inspiring our way ahead.

I want to draw Members’ and the Minister’s attention to some national initiatives. The Forest of Memories project aims to create a network of memorial forests across the UK in memory of all those who have lost their lives as a result of the pandemic. It has been supported by national bodies such as the National Trust and the Woodland Trust, and by charities such as Mind, Shelter and Marie Curie.

Sustainable forest can allow families to remember their loved ones in an environmentally sustainable way, surrounded by the beauty of nature. It is vital that we give our constituents every opportunity to take time and space to reflect and grieve, in the light of the loss and trauma that they have experienced over the last 16 months. As a supporter of the Forest of Memories and the primary sponsor of its early-day motion, and as we turn our minds to the legacy of the pandemic, I can think of no better tribute, and I commend its work to the Minister. We must look towards sustainable places of reflection, and demonstrate leadership through COP26 and across our Commonwealth. The legacy must pay tribute to the lives we have sadly lost, but also pay respect to our planet.

Finally, I draw Members’ attention to the Thank You Day celebrations, due to take place across the UK on Sunday 4 July. The initiative behind Thank You Day was started by just 13 volunteers, and it is now supported by hundreds of organisations, from the Scouts and the Guides, to Rotary, the Royal Voluntary Service and the NHS. This year, they have teamed up with Keep Britain Tidy to organise community litter-picks across the UK, as well as tartan tea parties, lunches and cheers for volunteer moments. I urge Members to look into how they might celebrate that occasion in their constituencies for those who have given so much to serve others.

I thank everyone who has come together to make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable. We could not have come this far without them, and they make us strong in our will to get past this pandemic and build back better. I look forward to the contributions of Members of all parties today, and to learn about the amazing work that has taken place in their constituencies. The resilience of our scientists, our health and social care services and all those on the frontline has made a crucial difference to our lives. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts and are proud to represent them in this House of Commons.

I intend to start the winding-up speeches at 3.03 pm at the latest, so I am imposing a formal time limit of four minutes on Back-Bench speakers.

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this debate. She has done the House an enormous favour by giving us the opportunity to thank our community champions for all that they do. As Members of Parliament, we know how much it means when people actually say thank you to us. This is a great opportunity to celebrate and say thank you.

I find increasingly that if you want a job doing, ask a busy person, and the community champions are all very busy. Local charities, community groups and individuals were vital for helping vulnerable individuals before the pandemic, but they have been especially brilliant throughout it. Many selfless volunteers in Southend have given up their time to assist those who cannot help themselves. This debate is so well judged.

Southend is fortunate to have plenty of wonderful charities that help a broad range of individuals and groups. The Music Man Project, set up by the brilliant David Stanley, would have been going to Broadway were it not for the pandemic. David Stanley is inspirational and has helped people with learning disabilities realise their full potential. It has played at the London Palladium and the Royal Albert Hall, and now it is going to go across to America.

I was pleased to support Trust Links’ new online wellbeing service, which adapted how it support individuals with mental health and wellbeing issues. I met Matt King, the chief executive, and I hope it can resume its services, which help 1,500 people every year with therapeutic gardening programmes, counselling, work programmes and mental health and wellbeing coaches.

Local charities that help rough sleepers have been extremely busy during the pandemic. I have been working closely with HARP—the Homeless Action Resource Project—and Off the Streets. Homeless people have been able to get into shelters and receive the coronavirus vaccine. I supported HARP’s “Everyone In” campaign to ensure that the progress made during the first lockdown was successfully continued to keep rough sleepers safe. I have seen the effects of homelessness first hand when visiting night shelters and during on-street visits. I urge the Government to support the charities helping rough sleepers as restrictions are hopefully easing.

I know colleagues will agree with me that our magnificent carers deserve recognition for the vital work that they have been doing. It was Carers Week earlier this month, and I was pleased to support Southend Carers and all those unpaid carers, to let them know how much they are valued. The contribution they made to families in Southend show a level of commitment and selflessness that is rare.

The week is Children’s Hospice Week. In July, Havens Hospices will be launching their Hares About Town project to bring communities together to raise awareness of the mental health problems children are facing and to raise money for the charity. I look forward to this project and wish them the best of luck.

Elderly people often need assistance with shopping deliveries and other day-to-day tasks that have been made more difficult during the pandemic. It was heart-warming to see the Southend Scouts and the Royal British Legion use their resources and time to assist those who could not go out food shopping or needed help collecting medicine. There are so many charitable organisations in Southend that have a passion for helping others.

Carla Cressy founded the Endometriosis Foundation, with which I have worked closely as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on endometriosis. It has done wonderful work. Similarly, Kelly Swain and Natasha Ralph have launched National Online Wellbeing Services’ “N.O.W’s the time for change” campaign, aimed at providing health-based and therapeutic coaching to improve emotional and mental health for children, young people, adults and families. It focuses on early intervention and coaching to overcome life’s challenges.

It is not just charities that have been champions in our communities. People have come to rely on the many places of worship that have done a magnificent job. With the weather thankfully improving, more people have been using the beaches. Southend Lifeboat and the Chalkwell Lifeguards have been very busy keeping people safe. I recently met the Chalkwell Lifeguards to present them with new emergency equipment, which will help save more lives. They do a wonderful job.

Southend emergency fund has given almost £200,000 to help local Southend charities and individuals to provide food, heating, personal protective equipment and mental health support to develop strategies to cope with life after coronavirus.

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing the debate and for allowing us all the opportunity to highlight the role of community in tackling the covid-19 pandemic.

In my constituency of Upper Bann, I have been blown away by the support of local community groups with clubs, churches and other bodies, such as the Orange Institution, in meeting the challenges posed by covid-19. It is no exaggeration to say that without the volunteering spirit of so many, more lives would have been lost, loneliness and the consequences of isolation would have been more prevalent, and families facing unexpected struggles would have been left helpless.

Faced with the unprecedented need and facing so many unknowns, and balanced against the risk of increased exposure to covid-19, it was inspiring to watch so many stand with neighbour or stranger to help them through this challenging time. In Upper Bann, our food banks faced unprecedented demand, but never left anyone without supplies. Food parcels were distributed by Orange lodges, churches, sports clubs and community groups. Volunteers checked in by phone with elderly neighbours and we had groups such as Warrior Scrubs making much needed PPE for our local healthcare heroes on the frontline. There are literally hundreds of people in my constituency alone who deserve our recognition, and therefore I will desist from singling out any particular group, save to say our thanks and praise for what they have done and continue to do.

What must recognise the vital role of community and ensure that we provide this sector, in all its manifestations, with the support it needs to thrive. This needs to be though financial support, but also through support for volunteer recruitment and development. We also want to promote the benefits of community participation among our younger generations.

I am proud of the role played by young people in my constituency throughout the covid-19 pandemic, but I would love to see it as the start of a movement towards young people getting involved in community groups and driving their priorities forward. We are making steady progress on the road to normality, but let the journey of community activism continue when we get to freedom day, because we have much to do to recover from the trauma brought about by covid-19. I thank all the volunteers in Upper Bann.

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing such an important debate. I am delighted to have the opportunity to spend a few minutes paying tribute to the community organisations and volunteers in Crewe and Nantwich who played—and continue to play—an enormously important role in helping us respond to the challenges of covid.

There is no way for me to recognise all the positive work done by so many different groups and people, but I thank each and every one of them. I will mention a few of the groups and individuals who enabled others to contribute, including Liz Parkin and members of the Nantwich Buddies team; Councillor Janet Clowes and members of her Wybunbury Viral Kindness team; Philip Garcia, Connie Davis, Helen Mollart and others, who are part of the Haslington Support Group; Nadiah McKeown and her team of 40 volunteers in the Community Isolation Help Group for the Wistaston, Crewe and Nantwich Facebook group—in fact, this year the local charity Motherwell recognised Nadiah as an inspiring woman for her fantastic work leading the group; and the fantastic group of volunteers, such as Chris, Emma, Christina, Paul and Nicola, who were supported by office. There are too many to mention, as I said.

I also want to mention the many volunteers supporting charities such as the Wishing Well, Hopes and Beams, St Paul’s Centre, Nantwich food bank, the YMCA and the Salvation Army. Collectively, they helped people stay in their homes, helped get medicines and helped pharmacy queues. They helped support lonely and isolated people. There was an enormous range of tasks that they engaged with. I had the pleasure of meeting Jean Fuller and husband-and-wife volunteers Geraldine and Ernie during a visit to the Wishing Well charity during Volunteers Week earlier this month. They exemplify community spirit—the idea that to give one’s time to help others is special, important and enriching.

If there is one thing that we can do positively as a result of the pandemic, it is to try to capitalise on that community spirit, on the many people who were new to volunteering, and on the new friendships and the new organisations that were built to respond to the pandemic. I am already seeing such groups grow and sustain beyond the work of responding to the pandemic. For example, the Haslington Support Group, like many of the groups I have mentioned, did not exist before the pandemic. As well as still helping people with collecting medicines and getting to appointments, the group recently created a poppy trail throughout the village and has just announced that it will be creating a scarecrow trail as well.

We all have a responsibility to each other. That is what it means to be part of a community, and I remain in awe of those individuals who are willing to do so much to try to fulfil that responsibility. If every person could give just an hour of their time once a month to volunteer in the community, as those people do, our communities—in fact, our entire country—would be so much better for it. I look forward to the proposals coming from the Department on the volunteering strategy for the coming year. If we can get behind people and grow what is positive as we come out of the pandemic, it will really create sustained improvements for all our constituents and our communities.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing such an important debate.

The last few months have been very difficult for so many different people, though I have nothing but pride for the way in which the people of my Ealing, Southall constituency have stepped up. Our community has responded with tremendous generosity and solidarity with those who have suffered greatly. Tragically, the poorest households and most vulnerable in our society have borne the worst effects of the pandemic, with rising levels of food bank use and social isolation.

I am so proud of the truly inspirational community and faith groups in my constituency who have played their part in supporting people during their time of need. They have handed out thousands of food parcels, and provided helpful advice and emotional support to the most vulnerable and to key workers in the constituency. In particular, I thank all the gurdwaras, all the Hindu temples, all the mosques and all the churches, along with the Indian Workers’ Association Southall, the Southall Lions, and many local restaurants such as Kulcha International, TKC, Saravana Bhawan and many, many more. Most importantly, I thank the Hope for Southall Street Homeless charity, which has worked closely with homeless people.

All places of worship have stepped up during this crisis, not only to feed the needy but to deliver medicine and host vaccination events. Their great work has helped the NHS to reach even wider groups of people with its highly successful vaccination programme, and to further safeguard public health. For their incredible work in protecting and improving our local environment, I wholeheartedly commend the Litter Action Group for Ealing Residents—LAGER Can—for their noble effort in cleaning our green and urban spaces. I am incredibly proud and inspired by their efforts to clean up our community during their Great Big Southall Clean-up fortnight, during which they were able to clean up every street in Southall—an astonishing feat.

I am incredibly grateful for the personal sacrifices of members of those groups, and want to let them know that their contribution to the common good has not gone unnoticed. I know I speak for everyone locally when I thank them for what they have done—the donations they have made and the time they have given up to help us all. Some of these groups were recognised for their outstanding contribution to our community with the great honour of a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, though their good works are deserving of so much more. The Government must commit more funds to the voluntary sector, and to local government, to ensure that these groups can sustainably continue and expand on their excellent work in our communities.

These groups, religious institutions and businesses have shown their commitment to shared strength and community co-operation. The coronavirus crisis has ultimately shown nothing but the best of our communities, the strength of our society, and the will of people to overcome any and all forms of adversity. I thank them for their efforts, and pledge to do all I can to ensure they can survive and flourish in the future.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on having secured this important debate.

I often talk about Peterborough being a special place—a caring city—and I talk regularly about being proud of Peterborough. It has become almost a personal catchphrase, but nothing makes me prouder of Peterborough than the way in which the community has responded during the covid-19 crisis. I would like to publicly thank a lot of the people who have worked with me—worked tirelessly—to support people during this effort.

Cocoa Fowler from the charity Food for Nought has supported teams across the city, delivering food to food banks. Hotelier Colin Wilson has been hailed as a hero by his wife for supporting his community during the covid-19 lockdown by cooking over 200 free meals a week—his local MP agrees with Mrs Wilson. Zoe Wareham, a nurse at Peterborough City Hospital, had to leave her children with their grandparents because they were particularly at risk of infection, but the hours she put in to support people were an inspiration. My friend Zillur Hussain, the chief executive officer of the Zi Foundation, has been honoured for his services to the community in Peterborough during covid-19. Along with his business partner Chavdar Zhelev, they provided thousands of free meals to the vulnerable and the deserving. He was honoured with an MBE, and again, he receives my public thanks. Ishfaq Hussain led efforts to provide meals to rough sleepers and, along with the charities Children of Adam, Unite 4 Humanity and the Garden House, ensured that rough sleepers were fed and housed during the outbreak. I also thank Atiq Rehman, Shezad Yousaf and Steven Pettican, who are good people in part motivated by their faith.

Takeaways and restaurants in Peterborough have been absolutely brilliant at offering free meals to the deserving, and my Peterborough’s Favourite Takeaway contest was a way to thank them for their efforts. Rony Choudhury of the Bombay Brasserie, Zeeshan Manzoor and the teams at Big Mouth and Five Lads, Touqeer Tariq of Rizq Peri Peri Grill, Becky and Emma at Flavour takeaway in Chadburn, the gang at Netherton Fisheries and countless others all deserve mentions, as do Jacki Wood, the landlady of The Bull pub in Newborough, for her efforts supporting the village, and Wendy Sayer of the Newborough coronavirus support group.

Peterborough is home to a number of community food banks. All organisers and volunteers merit thanks. I volunteered at the Millfield community fridge and was looked after by Carol Knight, and supported the efforts of Christine Nice at the Westwood community café and Erin Tierney at the Thorney and Eye food bank. Last but not least, Stevie Wiley and Richard Bastow of the Coronaheroes Facebook group led me to dress up as Father Christmas, handing out presents to children. They have been a real inspiration in Peterborough.

It is a special place, Peterborough, with the Sikh community, the Hindu community, the Nepalese community, five big mosques, churches across the city, the East Timorese community and Petr Torak from COMPAS, which provides support to the Czech, Slovak and Roma communities. They have all been absolutely marvellous during this campaign, as have the Peterborough Litter Wombles, the new organisation that supports litter picking and so on. Family Voice is another superb charity.

It is not difficult to say that Peterborough is a very diverse constituency with people from all sorts of communities. We come from different faiths, cultures and communities; we are different shapes and sizes and even speak different languages. But we came together as one city, and that is why I am proud of Peterborough, why it is such a special place and why all these people deserve a specific mention.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. Let me begin by thanking the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this important debate.

There is no doubt that the covid crisis has been immensely challenging for people across the country. Devastatingly, just when they needed support most, the vulnerable in our society were let down by a Government intent on securing the country’s finances above protecting and supporting its people. Where the Government failed, the local community stepped up. Today’s debate presents an important opportunity to bring attention to the critical work of community groups up and down the country. In my own constituency of Manchester Gorton, which has some of the highest rates of poverty in the country, community groups became a lifeline to those who needed it most.

I have been left in awe at the selflessness, kindness, and compassion of the people in Manchester Gorton. Over the past year and a half, I have had the pleasure of visiting initiatives such as Cracking Good Food, Qadria Jilania Islamic Centre and Urdu Global, where teams of volunteers and local councillors have worked tirelessly to provide hot meals to those in need. Food banks across Manchester including Fallowfield and Withington food bank, Work for Smile Longsight and Smile Aid, with the help of the Rafay Mussarat Foundation, have worked long hours to ensure there is always food available to those struggling to make ends meet. And when the virus trapped many people in their homes, volunteers at The Place at Platt Lane and Ardwick and Longsight mutual aid group delivered food parcels to those forced to shield or self-isolate.

That incredible community spirit has extended beyond providing food. Initiatives such as Levenshulme Inspire’s virtual community drop-in has allowed neighbours to stay connected and even strike up new friendships. Such work has been invaluable as we as a society have struggled with increasing loneliness and worsening mental health. Although this new digitally connected world has allowed many people to stay in touch with friends, family and loved ones, for older people in our society with limited digital skills or connectivity this time has been even more isolating. Once again, in Manchester Gorton community groups rose to the challenge. The Myriad Foundation and Northmoor community centre have ensured older people can access the technology they need to connect with their loved ones.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank all the faith groups for the wonderful work that they have been doing. I am talking about all the mosques, the churches, the Levenshulme Jain centre, the Medina mosque and, in Whalley Range, our gurdwara and the Hindu temple. All have done incredible work in helping people. The wonderful community in Manchester, Gorton have ensured that “isolating” does not mean “isolated”, and I could not be prouder of them.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this important and timely debate. It has been a real pleasure to hear the stories that we have heard so far about the way all our various communities have pulled together in the face of the pandemic that we have been going through, and to take a moment to celebrate the contribution of the many unsung heroes in our communities.

I will highlight just a few examples of the good work that has been carried out in the communities across my constituency of Gordon. Derek Davidson and the community council in Danestone, in the north of Aberdeen, have contributed a lot to their local community by keeping up local morale and spirits with the fairy doors and the welly wall and by organising litter picks and keeping the planters made by the gentlemen at the local men’s shed planted and brightening up the community in what has otherwise been a pretty dark time for us all.

Moving out towards Insch, in the countryside, the Rev. Dr Kay Gauld of the Insch-Leslie-Premnay-Oyne Church of Scotland and her team, Diane and Debbie, established a resilience group in the town of Insch, supporting people who were in isolation and who were shielding. They also set up a community larder, which continues to offer support, gathering—according to need —everything from firewood to clothes, bread to tinned goods, and even meals if there was a need to help out in that way.

In Ellon, the local Baptist church made its whole building available to the local food bank, which is run by the Trussell Trust and which normally operates out of a much smaller part of that building. Every square inch of the building was needed to cope with the generosity of the community in terms of the donations that were made and to accommodate the support in other aspects that was received.

In the time remaining to me, I would especially like to draw attention to what happened in the town of Huntly and how it pulled together in a particularly adverse set of circumstances earlier this year. On 2 February, the town experienced a complete failure of the gas network—a total shutdown. That left approximately 4,500 people without gas overnight, in temperatures of minus 6°. As if that was not enough, exactly the same thing happened just a month later, again leaving residents without gas overnight, that time in temperatures of minus 5°.

It was testament to the success of the multi-agency response that the prolonged losses of supply did not have more serious consequences, but what really shone through was how, without being asked, local organisations, agencies and individuals stepped up to the plate in order to assist each other in any way they could, whether that was by highlighting those in the community who were especially vulnerable or simply by taking any practical measures that they could to ensure the safety and comfort of others. It included local Facebook pages helping to share information and the local Neep & Okra Kitchen—a locally sourced food project and community business—giving away free food. So many people—too many to mention in the time available—stepped up to look after each other.

Often, it is in the worst circumstances that we find the best of ourselves. We hope that with more and more people each day being double-jabbed, an end to this situation might be in sight; and hopefully we have discovered not so much a sense of community as a renewed sense of community—the understanding that we are each of us part of something much greater and much bigger than ourselves and that our greatest calling in life is to be in the service of others. That is a sense of purpose that can serve us incredibly well in the weeks, months and years ahead as we all seek to build back better in our communities and beyond.

It is a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair, Ms Rees. I, too, thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for calling today’s debate.

The communities of York flow with generosity. Time and resources have poured out of people’s hearts to see injustice challenged, inequality quashed and people helped and supported in their time of need. From the unseen acts of kindness through to its highly developed and superbly led voluntary sector, the community effort has been the glue that has held our city together. Rehearsed in our response to flooding in York, we were adept at pulling together in a crisis and acting on values that are deep-rooted in our city’s history of social pioneers, Quaker heritage and progressive values. Literally thousands of people reached out: some to their neighbours, some to organisations, and some supporting community hubs to distribute food and pharmaceuticals. Others set up mutual aid groups and found a new calling to meet need.

My research into York’s pandemic response showed a community-led determination that no one should be left behind or go without. But as the weeks have turned to months, and with the ending of furlough drawing others back to work, one thing is clear: the sustained and enduring fallout from the pandemic continues. Need deepens, job losses grow and, for the isolated and lonely, the silence echoes ever louder. York is renowned as a volunteering city. According to Onward’s UK social fabric index, York scores extremely highly on all its indices. We love to be generous; we love to be kind.

Tragically, we had the first cases of covid in the UK, so we have already lived with the pandemic for 18 months. We are now ready to move on, but this time ensuring that no one is left behind. Although some are trying to go back 18 months, Labour will not. We want to go forward and focus on our community; build a greener, cleaner and more welcoming city with social projects to improve our environment; create a fully accessible and inclusive city; build a family-friendly city so that local people reap the benefits of living in such an incredible place; invest in jobs that are well paid and secure; invest in our new volunteers centre, a place of reciprocity, giving and gaining; and, as this last year has shown, create inclusive communities, building the homes that local people want to live in and the social infrastructure so that communities can thrive.

The past year’s community response has laid the foundations. Last spring, John and Julie McGall put out a table with some food on and invited others to share. Now they feed more than 100 people a day and make 1,000 deliveries a week. They have supported the homeless and those with no recourse to public funds, and found help for those experiencing domestic violence and comfort for those alone. Now a highly sophisticated operation, they serve our city every single day. People can expect to be bowled over by their gracious hearts and kindness.

Supper collective restaurants pooled their skills to turn out 12,000 meals for those in need. I know from constituents how much that has meant. Phone calls from Age UK, Tang Hall Big Local and many other places turned painful, empty days of isolation into moments where people felt the warmth of others and need was met. Bubble buddies went on walks with people, improving the health and wellbeing of their new-found friends.

A sector that has given so much and that must play a critical role in social recovery has received little support. The Government must now focus on supporting and sustaining an inspirational society that has been so transformative. My local community in York—the churches, the community groups and the individuals—have given us so much hope for our future. It is an honour to serve them.

May I remind Members participating virtually to keep their cameras on at all times, please? I call Taiwo Owatemi.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Rees. I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this important debate.

This is a perfect opportunity to celebrate our community champions—individuals who go above and beyond to support their neighbourhood during this most difficult of times. I am proud that my constituency of Coventry North West is blessed to have so many people who fit that description. I could fill my time simply with a roll-call of names, but instead I will try to be selective and choose a handful who most embody the spirit of togetherness that binds great communities together in times of adversity.

With food poverty a serious issue in our city, Clare Allington-Dixon and her team at Urban Goodies have stepped forward to provide hot meals and food packages throughout the pandemic. Their community enterprise combines the best traditions of charity with a determination to make a lasting difference by teaching cooking skills that blend together all of the fantastic cultural influences that make Coventry special. Their work has given many hope in dark days over the last 18 months.

Others of our community champions have focused on imaginative ways of combating the isolation and loneliness that lockdown has created. Summer of Sunflowers, an initiative that started on the border between my constituency and the next, brings people together through the simple shared experience of growing flowers in their front garden. I have to mention two people in particular. Mark Halpin has put energy and effort into making this idea a success, and I am not the only person delighted to see how Summer of Sunflowers is spreading across our neighbourhoods and schools, encouraging neighbours to work together to turn our streets golden.

Likewise, Katie O’Sullivan’s fantastic artwork on the side of O’Toole’s Cafe has created a centre of community interest in recent weeks. In giving her time to the community, Katie has created a brand-new landmark for Coventry, one I am proud to have in my constituency. The buzz around Summer of Sunflowers has allowed communities to start socialising once more, in a responsible and covid-secure way.

I also pay tribute to Langar Aid for not only helping Coventry’s homeless community but going as far as Dover in Kent to provide meals to lorry drivers who were stranded there due to covid restrictions.

Coventry is blessed with many organisations supporting the most vulnerable in our community, and I would like to thank Hugh McNeill at Coventry food bank, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this month, for all its hard work over the past decade. I am proud to have had the opportunity to volunteer and support it with food bank deliveries.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the faith groups for their incredible work in supporting the local community by distributing food and pharmaceuticals and ensuring the success of Coventry’s vaccination scheme. I am grateful to all the gurdwaras, mosques, churches and faith institutions. In addition, the volunteers at Lawrence Saunders Baptist Church and St Oswald’s have done an incredible job in providing wraparound support for families during this difficult time through their food bank, debt relief and job club services.

I also thank Jac Danielle, Robin Synnott and all the fantastic volunteer litter pickers for keeping our streets and parks clean. They have played an incredible role in bringing pride to our local area and showing that we value our environment.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the remarkable women who have been selected as the 14 modern-day Godivas, representing our city as community champions as we celebrate Coventry being the city of culture this year.

I could go on listing individuals, but for the sake of time I will close by giving thanks to everyone who has gone the extra mile to help our city weather the storms of the past year and a half. They are the glue in our neighbourhoods that binds us together, and I am incredibly grateful to each and every one of them for all they have done over the past 18 months.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this debate.

Have we ever seen a better example of the strength of community spirit than that shown during this pandemic? The community response to this unprecedented situation was simply incredible. In my own constituency of the City of Durham, Fram School, Belmont School, Durham rotary club and many others sprang into action to make and donate PPE to frontline workers. While some were donating PPE, the Capital Indian restaurant generously donated curries to keep NHS staff at the University Hospital of North Durham well fed on their shifts. While lockdown has often kept us apart, that has not stopped youth groups such as Cheesy Waffles and Durham Area Youth, which have continued to deliver fantastic services for children and young people, both online and in person. They are both incredible projects.

Then there are the community groups and organisations that recognised the need to support families throughout the pandemic. I have seen for myself the incredible work of Gilesgate and Belmont Wellbeing Project, which has supported people in a variety of ways over the past year, including through its food bank.

I never cease to be amazed by the graft and drive of the colourful character and Ludworth legend that is Dave Woods, who along with the community association volunteers, Tesco community champion Joanne Reay and Councillor Lucy Hovvels, worked tirelessly to keep community spirits up with food deliveries and hot food services.

Conservative Members present will be glad to learn of the generosity of the Durham branch of the National Education Union, which has been a constant source of support in the community. It gifted presents to 344 children in Durham last Christmas, donated key equipment to schools, ran online extracurricular sessions and so much more. It has been truly amazing, and it would serve the Tories well to remember that before they continue to scapegoat unions and school staff.

We cannot ignore the fact that groups have often had to step up because of Government failure. That the Brandon community runs the food bank at Brandon Primary School is brilliant, but it should not need to in 21st century Britain. When the Government disgracefully decided that feeding hungry children was not a priority for them, businesses and organisations decided that it was a priority. Hospitality businesses such as the Drunken Duck and community organisations such as the Brandon Carrside Youth and Community Project and One Step at a Time selflessly provided free lunches during the holidays. Durham Women’s football club ignored the fact that it could not take gate receipts last season, and instead asked its fans to watch online and donate the cost of a ticket to the End Child Food Poverty campaign, which raised thousands to feed children in Durham.

Those services should not rely on the generosity of society, because it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that no one lives in food poverty or any kind of poverty. Fortunately, in Durham we had a Labour council for most of the pandemic, whose support was noted to be among the best in the country. I hope the new Lib Dem-Conservative coalition is equally committed.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the work of the City of Durham Labour party, which made a series of donations to food banks and community organisations across the constituency over the past year, putting people before politics. I have shared those examples to give credit and thanks to the unsung heroes of Durham. They reaffirm my belief in the strength of community. We can say once and for all that Mrs Thatcher was wrong: there is such thing as society.

I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this debate. I always enjoy the debates that she brings forward. She and I are often on the same side and say the same things.

I want to put on the record my thanks to the people of my constituency. The unity and dedication that they have shown through the course of this pandemic have been truly admirable and inspirational. The past 15 months have not been easy for anyone, but people have been brought together. That is what I have noticed. I see the good coming out of all the badness and hurt that there has been in the past year.

I have a love for my country, and its history makes it even more unique, because the term “community” was not often used in a positive light during the height of the troubles. There was little sense of community across the great divide, and at times we had a justified fear of going out of our way to help others who were different from us. We were a much-divided nation, and that continued for years, but things have changed. In a way, covid made that happen to our advantage.

I believe that the constant efforts of the people of Northern Ireland, and particularly those in my constituency of Strangford, have been tremendous throughout the pandemic in addressing that fear and creating that togetherness when we had to be apart. Some 79,000 people were furloughed in Northern Ireland and 62,000 lived off self-employment schemes. The need within the communities was very clear, and the people came together in the best way they could. We may be apart, but you are not alone—that is the statement that I want to make in my contribution.

I want to put on the record my thanks to local residents groups—the Eastend Residents Association, in particular, which has delivered 165 food parcels, the Scrabo Residents Association, the Westwinds Development Association in Newtownards and the Glenn Association. They devoted themselves in their local areas to elderly residents who have to self-isolate or are at high risk. My colleague Councillor Billy Walker, who represents Killyleagh, Crossgar, Saintfield and part of Ballynahinch in the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, paid out of his own pocket for butchers’ meat parcels for elderly residents in his area of Killyleagh. It was a really massive contribution. We cannot take away from these people whose generosity was incredible. The list goes on.

Ards Elim Church sent a team out in full personal protective equipment with home-baked goods for elderly and ill. The Eastend Residents Association had a localised leaflet drop with emergency contact numbers. We must not forget the work of our local schools either. Tor Bank School in Dundonald undertook work for local pupils whose parents worked full time or did not have sustainable childcare for their special needs because of the coronavirus. People came together.

Community carers and district nurses have also earned our utmost respect. They went to multiple houses of the vulnerable daily in full PPE. We can never really acknowledge or understand just how great their contribution was, not just for the community but because of the danger in which they put themselves.

I hope that the last year has brought us closer together as friends and neighbours. If there is a lesson we can all learn, it is not to take things for granted. As restrictions lift, we must not forget about those who are suffering. I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow for leading this debate on this topic, which we have all thought about a lot. I am always proud to represent Strangford, but when I consider the grit, determination, love and empathy shown by people in my constituency, and in everybody’s constituencies, I am humbled and I honour them in this place.

I offer huge thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for giving us the opportunity to thank the incredible people in our constituencies who went above and beyond the call of duty during the main lockdown.

I remember a family member telling me that lockdown had brought out the worst in people, and it saddened me because, by virtue of our jobs, we are able to see how it brought out the best in so many. We were not sheltered from the negative impacts. Apart from experiencing some of them personally and in our families, as constituency MPs we were fully aware of the despair and sometimes desperation felt by the people who were most affected. For me, any low moods that were induced were offset by the incredible people I am about to tell hon. Members about.

I hope it is not just me, but normally when I make a speech I feel the ever-present pressure to be inspiring, but not this time. The material I am working with and the people of Glasgow North East are inspiring enough. The pressure today is not to forget to name anyone. I could not possibly give a comprehensive list of everyone I would like to thank, because that would take up the entire 90 minutes allocated to this debate. Instead, I have decided to tell hon. Members about the organisations I was involved with during the main lockdown. I acknowledge that there were many more, and if anyone listening would like some recognition for a group I do not mention, please get in touch and I will publish an early-day motion in their honour. I appreciate that makes me sound like a radio DJ taking requests, but it is worth noting.

I hoped to have time—although I do not think I will—to comment on some of the people we have heard about today. I would normally do that when summing up, but I am sure other hon. Members will forgive me if I prioritise Glasgow North East champions. It has been really good to hear about everybody, across the whole of the UK.

To my mind, there are three categories of people who fit the term “champion”. First, there are those who carried on doing their regular paid job in very difficult circumstances: healthcare workers, emergency workers, communications workers, shop workers, journalists, public transport workers and, yes, teams working for MPs and MSPs. They did not have any reduction in income but there were massive change to their daily lives and they were working in unsettling, if not downright scary, environments in order to keep our essential services going. They provided such reassurance to us that the world was not completely falling apart and I know we are all very grateful to them.

I pay tribute to those workers forced against Government guidance to go into work, when they could have worked at home. I have talked about that before and I will talk about it again. I thank them for bearing with us while we try to fight their corner.

Secondly, there are those whose jobs changed completely, such as housing officers, who suddenly had to organise, stock and manage food deliveries, or youth workers, who had to find creative ways of keeping in touch with young people when they could not meet in person.

Thirdly, there are those who volunteered. It was not their job and nobody was paying them, but they just got up and said, “What does my community need?” and got on with it. I am certain many of them thought it would be for just a day or so, maybe a week, and it turned into more of a full-time job without pay. Others thought it would be for maybe three weeks, and then the weeks turned into months and then a year, but they carried on, I will not say for no reward, but certainly for no financial reward.

Turning to the community champions in Glasgow North East, all of these groups and people did much more than I will be able to talk about in the time I have, but I want to name them and put my personal thanks as their MP on the record.

In March last year, I started to host a weekly Zoom meeting of all the groups working to support people in the Springburn area and another weekly meeting of everyone in the Milton and Lambhill areas. Today, both those groups still meet regularly and I want to list the members of each group. In Springburn, we had NG Homes, a local housing association. I want to make particular mention of Margaret Fraser, who leads the community outreach for NG Homes and tires me out just by watching her. She never stops. There is no way she can do everything in the hours she is employed for, and her imagination knows no bounds. If there was anything I could not find for a constituent, she had it, or she could access it.

Overnight, the Brunswick youth centre spent all of its reserves on food and became a full-time food delivery service. Not only that, they would turn whole streets into bingo halls, which was pretty crazy, but it was so much fun. New Rhythms for Glasgow was one of the groups that worked creatively with young people, and also worked creatively under the restrictions we had with people experiencing addiction. Glasgow Girls Club developed software that allowed groups to easily get up-to-date information about what help was available in this terrible time. Sisco does incredible work with addicts in prison and—so importantly—addicts leaving prison. Imagine leaving prison during lockdown, but Sisco was there for them, every minute of every day, and its workers just put so much energy into it.

I only had to tell Glasgow North baby food bank about a baby whose family needed food, milk, clothes or nappies, and its workers were on their way to support them. Colston Wellpark Parish Church provided food and advice several days a week, and support for the other groups as well. Tron St. Mary’s Church delivered fish and chips to older people on Fridays—they never let me go to that, for some reason—and held numerous online events, none of which could top their weekly get-together of the Cannae Sing choir. Just for the record, they can sing, but they cannot sing on Zoom—trying to sing with a group of people on Zoom was one of the funniest experiences I had last year. North Glasgow Community Food Initiative is about not just providing food, but helping people to eat healthily. It offers so many different things, with online cooking classes being just one of them. I also thank the Salvation Army, Afghan United, Bangla Centre, Stronger Together Enterprise and North Glasgow Integration Network.

If I may, I would like to say a bit more about a couple of organisations. Springburn Community Council, Springburn Parish Church and Spirit of Springburn are three organisations that work together, and many people were involved in working day in, day out to shop for and deliver food and prescriptions to people who either had no money or simply could not leave the house. The one person who is part of each of those three organisations, who has been working full time throughout the past year for not a single penny while also contending with family bereavement, is Helen Carroll. She spearheaded the entire operation and is now leading Spirit of Springburn, set out to regenerate her local area, and I pay particular tribute to her.

African Challenge Scotland provided food that African families could not easily access during lockdown because it was not widely available from supermarket deliveries or food banks. I accompanied them on a few trips and watched how tirelessly they worked, led by the indomitable Ronier Deumeni. It is not members of this group in particular that I am talking about, but Springburn Youth Forum held online quizzes, and had the nerve to beat my team one night. They are still doing wellness packs for young people. The Milton group includes Lambhill Stables, North United Communities, LoveMilton, Healthy North Glasgow, Milton Community Council, Milton Food Hub, Colston Milton Parish Church, North Glasgow Community Food Initiative, and the Ashgill Recreation Centre in Milton.

If have time—I have two minutes left—so will name just a few more, starting with Royston Youth Action, Spire View and Copperworks housing associations, St Paul’s Youth Forum, Everlasting Arms food bank in Dennistoun, Carntyne and Riddrie Credit Union, and FARE. Citizens Advice has been incredible. Lifelink is an organisation providing a counselling lifeline for people who felt that they really were struggling to go on. I also thank the Green Deal Action Group in Balornock and Barmulloch, Achieve More! Scotland, Susan Wilson at Reidvale community allotments, Possobilities in Possilpark, Possilpark Young Peoples Futures, Thriving Places Ruchill and Possilpark, Partick Thistle football club, and councillors, MPs and MSPs from across the political spectrum who recognised how important it was to just make sure that people survived and that we put our political differences aside.

Something that grew from the pandemic was the Scottish Pantry Network, of which I am now a board member. It was dreamt up by Glasgow councillor Mandy Morgan, and I need to mention it because it is a great solution to food poverty and food waste, and introduces that element of dignity. We now have seven of them, and not just in Glasgow. Basically, the idea is that food that would otherwise go to waste but is still fresh is taken there. People go along, pay £2.50 and get £15-worth of food in a nice shop and a nice environment. They can get meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. It takes away that sense of it being “the poor shop”. It is not a food bank—people are paying. People go whether they need to save money or whether they want to save the environment. It adds an element of dignity.

I have tried to mention those I worked with during lockdown. I have mentioned a couple of others, but I do not want to miss anybody out—I know there were others, and I am very happy to hear about them. As the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) said, these people are the glue of our neighbourhoods. If they are keeping our neighbourhoods together, I as their MP want to know about it.

I pay special thanks to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for calling such an important debate, where we can thank and honour those who have provided exceptional services to our nation, especially in the last year when, due to covid, their efforts were taken to new heights.

We live in an era where clickbait stories and internet trolls sometimes overshadow the true community spirit of our nation, but in the darkest of days, when businesses were closing their shutters, workers leaving their workplaces not knowing if they would return, families suddenly shutting their doors to their friends and relatives in a single moment, not knowing what would come next or whether they would ever get an opportunity to say their last goodbyes, at that moment our nation witnessed the best of being British and the true image of modern Britain.

People from every community, those of faith and no faith, from all four nations of the United Kingdom, stood up to play their part and support our nation in our time of need, with their kindness and generosity. Our brave NHS staff stepped up to the pedestal, working long hours to provide the care and vital support needed, including for the Prime Minister when he was infected with covid-19.

In those moments, there was no debate about whether someone was a foreign doctor or a refugee nurse. They were our doctors, our nurses and our frontline staff, delivering care to more than 100,000 people taking their final breaths and to hundreds of thousands who they saved with their care.

In those moments, when most of our economy was shutting down, we witnessed the hard work of frontline workers—shopkeepers, supermarket workers, delivery drivers, police officers, taxi drivers and so many more—who continued to carry on with their work, despite being in high-risk jobs. If it was not for them, the pandemic in those early days could have been so much worse.

Millions across the UK felt the true community spirit that I felt here in my community, with communities coming together. Those who had never volunteered became volunteers. Those who had left the NHS were signing their names to enlist once more, to play their part. In the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi), they are the glue that binds us together.

Despite the challenges that covid-19 was bringing to churches, mosques and community centres—to everywhere across the nation—we now find cathedrals or churches in almost every city or town that are vaccine centres. People of the Christian faith opened their hearts and responded to covid-19 relief efforts from day one.

In London, the famous Lord’s cricket ground handed over the bat to the Jewish community of St John’s Wood synagogue, which will now house the vaccine centre. In Slough, one of the largest Sikh gurdwaras in the UK, Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara, responded by providing more than 1 million meals across every borough in London to all those in need. Hindu communities responded in various ways, including the volunteers from Swaminarayan Sanstha, who rallied to launch a nationwide programme to support communities during the pandemic. Various UK Hindu temples, including the Neasden temple, were illuminated in blue every Thursday as a mark of respect and gratitude for the tireless and selfless NHS workers.

I saw at first hand the efforts put in by Muslim communities, not only in my home city and constituency of Bradford, but in all the efforts documented in the covid-19 report of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims—from mosques becoming emergency morgues and hospitals, to local Muslim shopkeepers in Scotland leading the way by providing emergency relief. In fact, when those such as the Moonlight Trust in Batley started their voluntary work, they thought, like many of us, that covid-19 would be here for the short term. As covid prolonged, so too did their efforts.

The charity sector, which has always been the backbone of providing support to the vulnerable and needy, had an even bigger task on its hands, and despite its finances being in a vulnerable state, it delivered. Our brave Army personnel were always ready to protect our borders, provided strategic and hands-on support for the NHS, and were involved in building the Nightingale hospitals and delivering the vaccines. They did what they do best: worked to protect our nation and its people.

While our institutions played their part, including local councils that had to restructure essential services, there were individual heroes who we will never forget, many of whom were themselves grieving the personal loss of loved ones to covid. Many of them were from minority communities, which were impacted disproportionately by covid-19. When the Government dithered over providing free school meals, it was the business community across the country that stepped in.

Captain Sir Tom Moore began walking 100 lengths of his garden in aid of NHS Charities Together, with the goal of raising £1,000 by his 100th birthday. On the morning of his 100th birthday, the total raised by his work had passed £30 million, and by the time the campaign closed at the end of that day, it had increased to more than £32.79 million. While Captain Sir Tom Moore may not be with us any longer, his efforts have surely made his family and friends, and our nation, proud. He will forever be remembered.

Similarly, Dabirul Choudhury, another 100-year-old, walked lengths while fasting in the month of Ramadan, and raised £150,000. Susan Rees, an advanced nurse practitioner from Johnstone in Pembrokeshire, Wales, recently received a British Empire Medal. After semi-retiring from her full-time role in infection prevention in 2018, she returned to work for three days a week as soon as covid was on the rise. In Belfast, Michael Oliver McBride, the chief medical officer for Northern Ireland, worked tirelessly during the pandemic.

I am sorry, but even if I stood here literally all day, I would still not be able to mention the efforts of everybody in our communities during this period, so please forgive me. On behalf of the Labour party, I put on the record our thanks and our pride to each and every person who played their part, be it through volunteering or fundraising, to support our nation during this pandemic. You are all our country’s heroes.

In closing, I say this to those who want to create culture wars, to pitch community against community and to target minorities, making them feel like they do not belong in the UK: reflect and think again. As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) said, there is such thing as society. As the chief executive of the Ramadan Tent Project, Omar Salha, tweeted this afternoon:

“The force of separation and division is strong, but the force and power of our community most definitely stronger.”

If I am asked, “What is the British spirit?”, I say that it is what we saw in this pandemic, whether it is the Muslim doctors who were sadly the first to die from covid-19 on the frontline or the Sikh volunteers delivering langar; the black train driver in London or the white taxi driver in Devon; the church providing PPE or the synagogue setting up a vaccine centre; the European supermarket worker or the refugee delivery driver; the doctor, the nurse, the care worker or the cleaner. This is modern Britain: diverse, inclusive and all playing our part to protect our country, our NHS and our people. This is modern Britain.

Minister, we must end by 3.35 pm. Would you mind leaving a few minutes at the end so that Dr Lisa Cameron can wind up?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, I think for the first time.

I extend the thanks of everybody here today to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this hugely important debate. This afternoon, we have seen the best of this House and heard about the best of Britain. We are all grateful to her for the chance to put on the record our thanks to so many remarkable people right across the country. Today’s debate has given us the chance to talk about community champions and the incredible work they have done during their remarkable response to covid-19. I am very proud, and I am sure all Members have been proud, to stand here today and thank them, recognise their work and put it on the record that they were the backbone of our response to covid-19.

Even in the most difficult times for our country and the globe, we have seen the best in people and the best in our communities. Even in the midst of great loss, suffering and hardship, communities have come together to support each other with great bravery, spirit and love. Whether it was as part of community groups, charities or faith groups, or as individuals reaching out to each other and their neighbours, it is the strength of character of the people in our towns, villages and cities that has got us through this incredible period.

We have heard so many inspirational stories this afternoon, and there are so many unsung heroes, as the hon. Lady said. I will mention a few of them, starting by thanking the Blackwood and Kirkmuirhill Resilience Group, and Lesley, who has clearly done so much work to deliver flowers, to order in those fish teas, which I am extremely jealous about, and to organise the online bingo—that sounds absolutely incredible. We are equally grateful to the East Kilbride litter pickers and Alice. It is fantastic to hear about the passion and pride that they have shown for keeping the community clean over the last year and a half. I cannot begin to say how grateful we all are.

We have heard some incredible stories about how groups have utilised online technology to support people with their mental health, including the incredible work done by Trust Links over the last year. We heard about the work by those in the Nantwich Buddies support group and what they do collecting medicines and providing support, and it is incredible to hear that they are starting the poppy trail and a scarecrow trail. I cannot wait to visit and see that. It sounds absolutely incredible, and I thank them for the work that they are doing.

We have heard that Peterborough is the caring city. I have heard that said many times before, but today we really saw that through the examples, including Food for Nought and the Norfolk community fridge. A really important point was made about those who volunteer to give up their time for childcare to ensure that key workers can still get to work and support the health service and our key services. We have heard the same about Manchester, Gorton, where community groups run online virtual drop-ins to support mental health, and my huge thanks go to them, too.

We have heard about the Insch resilience group in Scotland and the excellent work that it does. I thought that the story we heard about the community in Huntly, who had a gas outage on 2 February and another a month later, and were experiencing temperatures of minus 5° but all came together to support each other and vulnerable people through local food groups and share information online, was really fantastic.

We have heard about the spirit and determination in York to ensure that nobody is ever left behind, about the focus on community, and about the work done by Age UK to reach out so many of the constituents of the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). I am pleased to hear about the volunteer centre and how beneficial it will be.

We have heard how in Durham, the rotary club has been supporting people with PPE, and we have heard about the work of Cheesy Waffles to support young people. My thanks go to them.

We have heard about Clare Allington-Dixon and her team in Coventry North East. They have been teaching cooking skills to people during the pandemic. What a fantastic way to support the community, by encouraging people to make better use of their food through such a difficult time. We have heard about the Summer of Sunflowers and the work that Matt is doing spreading literal growth right across the community and the country.

The SNP Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin), spoke passionately. She was nervous that she would sound like a community DJ taking requests, but she did not, I can assure her. She sounded like a passionate representative of her community and her country, talking about the types of community groups that have contributed so much, including housing officers, youth workers, the volunteers who were giving back so much that they almost became full-time workers, Margaret and what she was doing, the Brunswick youth centre and the parish church in Springburn. We are really grateful to them for everything that they have done.

I also want to say something about rough sleeping. We have heard so much about the incredible work in Southend to support people in the Everybody In scheme, the street homeless charity in Ealing that has done such incredible work, and the Garden House in Peterborough, which has contributed so much. Looking at the Government’s response to the pandemic, we see that one of the most important pieces of work carried out was to support rough sleepers, and the work that has not been praised enough as part of that is the volunteers’ response. Volunteers were out there, night after night, day after day, supporting rough sleepers who, in some cases, had for years been nervous about engaging with the council or with volunteers. The volunteers really stepped up and supported people during that time, meaning that by May 2020, 15,000 people had been supported into accommodation and were receiving help and support, often for the first time in years. That was, of course, an important part of the national Government response, but I think it shows the alignment with volunteers and how that can really deliver the best for our society.

We saw the same with shielding, as we have heard. Volunteers helped shielding individuals by delivering food, providing support and just phoning them up to make sure that they were okay. Although the Government work is hugely important, the most remarkable response to the pandemic was surely on the ground, as we have heard. It was the willingness of individuals to step up and go the extra mile, be it for friends, neighbours or simply anybody in need, regardless of whether they had met before. It was truly heart-warming, and the scale of the volunteer response was unprecedented. As we have heard, more than 12 million people across the UK delivered support during this pandemic, which is incredible to behold.

We also saw how almost 2 million people delivered support and services as NHS volunteer responders, completing millions of tasks and supporting 171,000 people at risk from covid. My thanks go to them as well. In addition to the volunteer response through the formal channels that we and communities have helped to organise, we saw a huge growth in informal volunteering—people stepping up to help others when they saw need, whether through collecting shopping, walking dogs, gardening or checking in on neighbours. You name it, someone in this country volunteered and did it over the past year and a half.

Throughout our country, we saw communities rapidly mobilising to help local people, especially those who were particularly at risk or who were hit the hardest by isolation. That shone through, certainly in my experience as a constituency Member of Parliament. We saw more than 2.5 million people volunteer with 4,000 mutual aid groups. That is a unique grassroots movement, the likes of which we have never seen before.

We have seen communities in all corners of our country demonstrate their resourcefulness and adaptability by working on their individually unique strengths. Despite the daily challenges and difficulties for so many people during such an incredibly difficult part of our country’s history, many people took their first steps into volunteering. Many new volunteers got involved for the first time—over 4.5 million people.

Although many millions of people were mobilised and joined volunteering for the first time, we should take a moment to recognise the people who normally volunteer and do so much but who were constrained because they were shielding during the pandemic. Many such people found new and innovative ways to support others throughout the last year, be it through getting to grips with technology or just phoning up people and keeping in contact in ways that they had not done before. I can imagine how it felt for people not to be able to be involved or offer support in the way that they wanted, but that adaptability has shown real resilience. The national effort saw volunteers spring up from less traditional places in some respects, and I pay tribute to everybody who did so much.

We have the chance to thank communities, organisations and individuals for what they have done, and to thank people who have volunteered in any way over the past 18 months. I want to put on the record and promote the Prime Minister’s Points of Light awards, which recognise all the work that has been done by those at the forefront of the response to the pandemic. The hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) talked about Captain Sir Tom Moore. Who can forget the incredible and inspirational example that he set the rest of us in this country?

We have heard a lot about faith groups. I extend my thanks to our faith communities for what they have done during this pandemic, including Moncrieff parish church, Colston parish church and the others that we have heard about. Faith groups have risen to the challenge by providing services in a way they have not done before and offering solace, comfort, advice and support through a multitude of different support services. We have seen examples of groups from all faiths delivering food and supporting people who were shielding. I really believe that faith communities have been a linchpin for many people by providing pastoral care and support networks, especially for older and more vulnerable people, and even continuing some forms of informal education for people who did not have access to the same external services during the last year or so. Yes, faith communities were already undertaking much of that work, but it increased in scale, passion and determination. We all put our thanks to them on the record.

The hon. Member for Bradford West talked about the role of volunteers in the vaccination programme. I join her in thanking all volunteers for the work that they are doing, and I ask for their kindness and forgiveness to just keep going. They are helping us—our whole country—to light the way towards the better days that are now within our grasp. We need everyone’s support to signpost communities to verified sources of important information about the vaccines, and we must continue to reinforce positive messages.

I also put on the record my thanks to civil society. The Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership, made up of over 200 community organisations, has supported the covid response, helping to map unmet need and improve emergency response through new data platforms. The response really has been incredible. We have provided clear support with £750 million for charities, social enterprises and the voluntary sector, ensuring that civil organisations, including those at risk of financial hardship, continue the incredible work they did before and throughout the pandemic. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has provided £23 million of funding to 60 councils and the voluntary sector to expand their work and to support those most at risk from covid.

I want to leave the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow some time to wind up the debate, so I thank all hon. Members here today and, on the Government’s behalf, everyone who has done so much in every corner of our country. Volunteering is a vital part of our national identity, and that has only increased over the past year. I agree with the hon. Lady who said that when we start to build back better we will be holding the sacrifice that others have made over the past year and a half at the forefront of our minds.

I thank all Members who have taken part today. It has been extraordinary to hear about the efforts that have gone into supporting communities across everyone’s constituencies. As others have said, we cannot mention everybody today because so many people have contributed, but we can thank them all, and we have put our thanks on the record today.

I thank all elected Members of Parliament, because what has shone through today’s debate is how intrinsically well everyone knows their communities and how everyone has worked hard to galvanise the frontline effort across all parties. MPs, MSPs up in Scotland, Members of the Welsh Parliament and those in Northern Ireland have all been working tremendously hard to ensure that they support volunteers and those working on the frontline. I must say that I did not really know much about what MPs did before I became one myself, but I now know a bit more about the hard work that goes on. Elected Members really have stepped up to the plate.

We will need many more resources going forward to continue to support volunteers in communities, so I am pleased that the Minister said that thought will be given to finance and support. We still have some way to go, but we can have hope, given all the work and motivation that communities have brought to the effort so far, that we will come out the other end of this, perhaps with stronger communities. I thank everybody.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the role of the community in responding to the covid-19 outbreak.

Sitting suspended.