The impact of coronavirus on communities across the UK is felt as the number of people infected increases and deaths mount in every region of these isles.

Many of the most vulnerable people in our society will be left even more vulnerable at this time

These are troubling times: it is a time of shock and it is a time of lament, and we know there are hard days ahead. But it is also a time for us to reach out – however we safely can – to help those in greatest need. The restrictions we are living under does not remove our obligation to care for those around us.

The shutdown ordered by the Government means that people should not leave their houses without – in the words of emergency legislation passed before the Houses of Parliament– a reasonable excuse. These include getting essential supplies such as food and medicine, visiting the hospital and taking daily exercise, but there are to be no public gatherings of more than two people outside of a household. It also includes providing care for vulnerable people.

For those classified by the Government as vulnerable, either over 70, with underlying health conditions or pregnant, they are asked to be stringent in their isolation and social distancing. For the 1.5 million most vulnerable they are to be shielded’, which means, where possible, they are to have no contact or interaction within two metres of anyone, including from their own household, aside from carers who must take stringent precautions.

These measures mean that there will be many of the most vulnerable people in our society left even more vulnerable at this time. While this crisis is hard for all, it is especially hard for those who are most frail, least able to leave their houses, and without the social support that may have been their lifeline.

Local communities have been quick off the mark to ensure neighbours in need are not left isolated even when they are isolating, providing opportunities to collect shopping, medicine, or just talk on the phone. I know of neighbourhoods providing support for elderly people in their community and doing shopping for NHS workers. Many people have set up WhatsApp groups for their streets to keep in touch.

Connecting churches with the most vulnerable

One UK-wide initiative that the Evangelical Alliance is partnering with, which is designed to help churches connect with and support vulnerable people in their communities, is YourNeigh​bour​.org. In the first 48 hours since its launch, more than 400 churches signed up, and they are looking to expand that to 1,000. In the coming days it will provide a portal to connect volunteers from churches with people in their communities in need. Rather than replacing or competing with the very many local initiatives and compassion ministries, this helps tie things together and makes available expert advice and central support. 

Churches that run befriending services might want to think about calling up those who they would normally meet with. Foodbanks are restructuring their services to provide knock and go’ deliveries of essentials. There are very many things that we can continue to do to support each other and to ease the challenges that the most vulnerable face at this time. 

There will continue to be acute needs that require professional assistance, and it is crucial the church recognises where it can be of assistance and where additional care is required. But at this time when we are all feeling isolated, and perhaps grieving the lack of community around us, let that be a prompt to reach out to people around us – but keeping a good appropriate distance – and provide compassion, care and support.

Sign up your church to join the YourNeigh​bour​.org network. 

They’re also recruiting volunteers as they build the network and develop support services. 

There are very many things that we can continue to do to support each other at this time.