Okehampton has changed a lot in the past few months. The town and hamlets have worked together with outlying villages to provide a combined response to the issues arising from COVID-19. Examples of this collective attitude can be found right across Dartmoor and are hopefully the future; not the old normal but a new normal with an increased support in using local services, products and produce.
On a seemingly normal Friday at the beginning of March, a group of friends from One Okehampton met in The Allotment Club after the news indicated a possible need for lockdown in the UK. Little did they know just how fast things would move. Within two days they had a telephone helpline set up, within five a network of volunteers and within a week were taking calls, collecting prescriptions, sending out food and shopping. Okehampton COVID-19 support group hit the ground running and haven’t stopped. Buddying people up with others in their area meant longer term support and a professional system devised to ensure those in need were supported by those closest to them or with a common connection where possible. The group helped re-home a man from the streets, fed victims of domestic violence and many more scenarios they never dreamt would happen. The group remains and hopes to become permanent long after COVID-19 departs.
Okehampton Isolators is a Facebook group set up by the support team to create a haven from stress. No serious issues allowed. That is the only rule. From photo challenges to bad jokes and wildlife photography the group makes people smile.
Okehampton United Charities funded art packs on top of the basic craft supplies sent out from the COVID-19 Support Group HQ in the town centre. Stuart Wyatt created a radio support network and lit the enthusiasm of radio fans, the medical centre and families wishing to have communication if the phone network went down. Fears were very real. If it happened, Okehampton was ready.
Okehampton Food Bank has seen tremendous support from individuals and Okehampton Round Table, who took out their Christmas sleigh collecting money and food. Harvest Workers Co-operative received funding to provide veg bags for Food Bank customers.
The Allotment Club turned from a café into the Soul Soup Project and then grew into Okehampton Community Kitchen, sending out up to 200 homemade meals and cakes a week free of charge to those isolating, suffering loss of income, poorly or homeless plus to key-workers after long shifts or staying away from their families. The project is now a permanent fixture for the area and locals donate things they grow and make or surplus fruit and veg. The project identifies ways to signpost recipients where necessary and has also collected donations of toys, DVDs, jigsaws and books and sent them out alongside the food.
Businesses changed direction to work together. Dunn’s Dairy, Taw River Dairy and others that deliver out into the community took the opportunity to support others and started delivering everything from Luxton’s farm produce, Martin’s butchers’ meat, veg and you can even get Image Coffee Shop brownies delivered with your pint. Gourmet Leaves the lettuce growers supported local company Hogs Bottom’s dressings and other local growers to create salad bags delivered each week. The London Inn ran a breakfast delivery service and Dave Wills Catering provided Sunday lunches to your door.
Dynamic local singers The Hummingbirds kept a video diary of lockdown cheering people up with their fun and catchy singing. The town has had everything from online sofa singing, zoom parties, guitar lessons and many other local talented folk sharing their hobbies.
Grass roots community response meant not much was asked for from the councils and as a result no means testing, no geographical boundaries and no red tape. Immediate response for locals by locals, and that is what the new normal should be.
As we come out of lockdown, people are scared and relieved in equal measures. There is a new slogan for the area adopted by the business group One Okehampton and many others: ‘Shop local, eat local, grow local, join in local groups, visit local places and above all remember that the connections, friendships and the working relationships made over the past few months can define a new normal’. A normal where old arguments are swapped for seeing positives, seeing why we should do things rather than why we should not and welcoming new people, ideas and initiatives.
The Moorlander is the official media partner to One Okehampton, Okehampton Area Business Owners, Okehampton Community Kitchen and the Okehampton COVID-19 Support Group because the offices are in Okehampton at the heart of the community. We are proud to be a leading part of the Community is Everything initiative and this is a great time to get involved.