Community Help Rathfriland

Joy Lapsley tells of how the COVID-19 has affected her and her town of Rathfriland.

The 15th March 2020 - the first time I realised how bad life could possibly become. I heard we were going into lockdown within a few days. I soon realised there was nothing in place if I needed help or support and if I was feeling like this I'm sure many others would be feeling like that also. So I decided to start a Facebook page called "Community Help". I started off that week going door to door introducing myself and leaving my details along with information and window stickers regarding the coronavirus to older and vulnerable people and families.

I started that weekend with food parcels - I made up 48 bags of essential shopping and distributed it to those I believed couldn't manage to get to the shops. From that day on I understood there were over a dozen single adults who had no family in the area and were self isolating and I checked on them twice a week bringing with me shopping and treats along with weekly projects - gardening/baking/quizzes/jigsaws - no charge either for anything that was organised. With each passing day the group kept growing and growing and within a week I had gathered over 100 families within Rathfriland and surrounding towns. These families had children and were maybe struggling to know what to do so I decided to start family projects. I even had another lady who was studying to become a hypnotherapist offer her services to the group and she started weekly classes through WhatsApp to help those struggling with mental health issues like anxiety due to the coronavirus lockdown. Each week the group kept growing with nearly 600 people by the end of May from 25th March. Community Help ran 2 projects each week to keep morale up and the town connected to each other and to let folk know there was someone there if they needed anything. Each project was posted up and offered and then people got accepted on the project. I prepared the packs and delivered to each household.

Each project brought in between 85 and 120 families. Projects included an Easter egg drop, community quilt, poetry competition, letter to Boris Johnston, baking pack, quiz pack, jigsaw exchange, family DVD pack, postman/woman appreciation pack and armed services pack. We are currently preparing our community recipe book. The support has been overwhelming and each day people are thanking me for what I’m doing but the funny thing is, it's the people who have been helping me and kept me going. Each week we featured sometimes up to 2 times in our local paper The Outlook. Barbara Boyd was with us every step of the way. We also featured in the Belfast Telegraph at the beginning of lockdown and a young girl only aged 12, Grace Moffet, started writing letters to older folk in the town. I collected them off her each week and delivered them. At times Grace could have been writing up to 80 letters. I have met some lovely people doing this group and I have gained many kind and wonderful friends.