A charity based in Honiton has adapted its service since March 2020 – stepping up its help to meet the needs of the community amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the revenue of the Devon Freewheelers continues to be hit, as scores of fundraising events have been cancelled because of Covid-19 restrictions, the service has gone the extra mile whenever needed.
Nick Newby, Devon Freewheelers Operations Manager, said the coronavirus had brought a host of fresh challenges to Devon Freewheelers volunteers since the start of the pandemic.
We have seen a drop in charity donations because we have been unable to take part in any fundraising activities…
Mr Newby said: “Securing PPE was hard at the beginning as everyone was trying to protect their own staff.
“All our volunteers have to wear PPE when entering any site.
“We have doubled the number of bags we carry in the vehicles to ensure we keep lab deliveries of Covid and other samples completely separate.
“And surfaces of our cars are thoroughly wiped down before and after each use.”
He added: “We have seen a drop in charity donations because we have been unable to take part in any fundraising activities.
“This was especially noticeable over the festive period.”
In recent months, the charity’s volunteers have been transporting samples collected from across Devon for the global BRACE Trial to determine if the BCG vaccine might help protect against COVID-19 – research in the UK is led by the University of Exeter.
Devon Freewheelers Emergency Voluntary Service (EVS) volunteers collect BRACE Trial samples from multiple locations in the county, transporting them for testing by the University of Exeter’s research team.
Mr Newby, based at the charity’s Honiton headquarters, said: “EVS Blood Bike volunteers are providing a transportation service to the University of Exeter of the samples collected for the BRACE Trial.
“Up to four days a week, sometimes twice a day, our volunteers collect samples from three locations in Exeter and one in Teignmouth and transports them for testing at the university’s facility at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
“Once a week they also transport samples from one location in Exeter to the University of Exeter.”
When the Covid-19 testing centre opened at Exeter’s Sandy Park in April 2020 the service was run by Devon Freewheelers volunteers on behalf of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (RD&E) – swabbing patients and NHS staff, and transporting samples to the testing laboratory.
The volunteers’ work earned praise from Professor Adrian Harris, Medical Director at the RD&E, who at the time said: “Testing for the virus is at the heart of our response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
He added: “I want to pay tribute to all our staff and our partners at the university, and also Devon Freewheelers who have been helping to carry out the swab testing in the community and hospital.”
And when the first lockdown was announced by the Government in March 2020, Devon Freewheelers offered a doorstep prescription delivery service for those told to shield from Covid-19 – help which continues to operate almost a year on.
“During the first lock down Devon Freewheelers offered a prescription delivery services for those shielding, which is still in place for those with the Government shielding letter,” said Mr Newby.
In addition to the extra support offered by the Devon Freewheelers amid the pandemic, volunteer riders, drivers, and call handlers have continued with the charity’s round-the-clock, day-to-day, service.