This year the world has been affected by a virus, COVID-19, and each country has tackled it in their own way. In Fife, volunteer groups have emerged to help local communities deal with the impact of the pandemic where they felt that there was a need for more support in their area. People have stepped up to help others who may be having difficulty during this period and showed that there is an urgent need to help each other.

S.H.I.E.L.D – is one such group supporting our communities we interviewed during Diversity Week Fife (click this link to view the Let’s Chat interview on Youtube), it all started when a person moved back to a locality after 10 years elsewhere and immediately identified an issue within the area. Sarah Keeble set up the group on the 15th of March 2020 after she watched how people reacted to the hype and hysteria over the pandemic, and also the greed that some people had shown.  She wanted the group to cater for the people who were not able to get to shops. One day, she had tried to take food to a foodbank but saw that the times they were available were not suitable for some.  Sarah then tried to take food to her local Co-op at a pick-up point but was told that they did not do this anymore. After this experience she decided to make up bags with a few meals, and that was the beginning of S.H.I.E.L.D.

In the beginning it was a family operation that she created with the help of her three children. Her children helped with the cooking and it felt like a reset for the family because they were involved in this together. They made an appeal for larger premises because, in the beginning, it was based at her home and the group was expanding quickly. COVID-19 restrictions then became an issue, which led to her not being able to have people at her home. A local church eventually offered space which was a huge help for the group as Sarah was currently dealing with 80 – 120 people on her own!

The expansion of the group changed as she was able to get in contact with Fareshare in Dundee. They did not usually work alongside organisations that were non-funded, but the group explained how they worked so that they could make their case. S.H.I.E.L.D explained that older people were able to get COVID boxes however they were too heavy to lift. Some people were living off convenience foods that they could easily put in the microwave as they did not know how to use a cooker properly. The boxes that were given out were generic and some of the items were no use to the person.

The group asked for help from Fife Council, where they were complimented for their work. They have felt like underdogs through this process but have been able to show established groups that the work that they are doing is amazing while trying to help one another through this time. They have asked for help from Fife Council but understand that coming to an arrangement could be a long process.  S.H.I.E.L.D, feels that, at this moment in time, they do not want to go into a partnership as it may cause too much red tape if another lockdown were to be put in place. They hope that in the future Fife Council may help them by letting them borrow a van or advise them on how they can qualify for volunteer expenses for the group.

S.H.I.E.L.D are constantly learning as all the volunteers involved have never done anything like this before and therefore they do not have previous experience to help them identify which areas may need focussed on more than others. But it is very obvious that this group has passion and believe in what they are trying to create. S.H.I.E.L.D can see that since March of this year the needs of the community have changed, and it bases its work on current issues that the community faces. They want to show that this group is in it for the long-term and that is why they are currently having talks with organisations to potentially build relationships.

In the beginning, everyone worked alongside each other. This was useful as they could see the strengths and abilities of their volunteers and it helped them establish which areas each volunteer would be most helpful in. The bags are made up of items that they think the person receiving it will need. They ask if the person has any allergies or if there is anything that they may not like.  Their bags include:

  • Cleaning products
  • Toothpaste/toothbrushes
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Sanitary products
  • Hand soaps
  • Sponges/face wipes and
  • Ambient products

Cooked meals are created by the surplus food that is given to them by donations and Fareshare. Dunfermline mosque offered their kitchens to help with some of the cooking that needs to be done. Some volunteers even cook at home, where the food is stored in plastic containers in chest freezers. These are then delivered to the members when needed. The meals that are created are healthy balanced meals and all the distribution is done with their own transport. Since April this year, S.H.I.E.L.D have dealt with about 43 tonnes of ambient products between Fareshare and public donations. This is approximately 23,000 cooked meals with no formal premises and no money!

Plastic waste is a problem that concerns everyone and the ways in which people try to deal with it is regularly highlighted in the news. S.H.I.E.L.D, have a volunteer that works with Plastic Free Dunfermline, who helps them understand user-friendly ways they can deal with plastic. They are also passionate about the work they are doing to help alleviate the impact of Covid and poverty, they feel that it will be the workers who will get the economy going. Most of these people are not used to benefits, as they have been used to a certain lifestyle. For this reason, amongst others, mental health is becoming a big issue as people around the world are struggling to cope with the effects of the pandemic.

The group has also helped volunteers to become interested in other areas where they can help the community. For example, one volunteer has become a Co-op Pioneer because they wanted to get more involved and saw the relationship that was building between the Co-op and their group. The group has been a lifeline to the volunteers as it has helped them to keep busy during this challenging period. When someone reaches out for their help, they try to ensure that one volunteer goes to that area as it’s important to them that people are made to feel comfortable so that rapport can be developed. These volunteers have made individuals feel that they are a person, not just a statistic.

The group have relied heavily on volunteers, but now, as some have gone back to work, they have made sure this has not affected the service that they are trying to provide for the community. The group have also helped people in a variety of ways by providing clothing, toys and books.

S.H.I.E.L.D was created from a simple idea based on helping others and being there to offer support during this pandemic. They have shown that even without experience it is possible to overcome issues such as receiving support from organisations that would not normally deal with non-funded groups. They have received help from a local church and mosque that have offered their resources to help others. The passion and empathy that this group have is shown in the way they are helping their community. They always show their gratitude to every individual that helps them by thanking them. They understand that they would not be in this position to help others without the donations that they receive and the help from the Co-op, Fareshare and other businesses and individual generosity.

In the future, Sarah would like to see S.H.I.E.L.D work with local colleges to provide support to students who need help. She says they could help with anything for example, with goods, moving home or anything else that they may be needing help with. The shocking events of 2020 have made some people view this year negatively, but Sarah Keeble feels that it has been the best year of her life as she has never done volunteering before. The group are humble and have plenty of success stories over this period which they will never forget.

This pandemic has helped show the true colours of people through their reaction to the virus. The third sector has grown because individuals have stepped up and noticed that we need to be here for each other as no one knows what the eventual outcome of this crisis will be. Individuals and groups have come up with simple ideas for the community they live in, and sometimes they have grown to the point extra help becomes necessary from other groups so that they can still offer their services to the area – S.H.I.E.L.D has been one such success story!

Go give them a like on the SHIELD Facebook Page! (direct link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/shielduk.org/permalink/343079313775292/)