Helping those most in need in our communities

Andrea Barrett

By Andrea Barrett
Director of Responsible Business

Helping those most in need in our communities

Amidst all the fear, worry and upheaval of the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve had the privilege to work on something really positive over the past few weeks; a new initiative that will see colleagues at Centrica volunteering to help food banks and people in need in communities across the UK. 

My days are usually spent working on our climate change strategy, or liaising with our charity partner Carers UK, to increase support and awareness for carers. 

As it has for most people, COVID-19 has turned that on its head. For the past three weeks, I’ve been juggling looking after my children in the morning and working in the afternoon and evenings. It’s an interesting challenge that everyone with children is now grappling with!

My focus has turned to working with an amazing team of colleagues, along with the Trussell Trust, the charity supporting a nationwide network of 1,200 food bank centres. Together, we’ve been planning an initiative to ensure much needed emergency food continues to reach vulnerable people during the pandemic.

Our engineers, call centre operatives and other colleagues are already playing a crucial role in ensuring our customers have heating and hot water at this time.  Many of them have been going the extra mile, shopping for vulnerable customers, volunteering at food banks and some even using their skills to make face masks to give to NHS workers!

Getting food to those in need

Many of our people have said they want to do more, so that’s why we’re partnering with the Trussell Trust and their network of food banks to make it easy for our people to volunteer to help in their community.  

Food banks are needed now more than ever, but Coronavirus has made it increasingly difficult for their volunteers to get food to people in most need. Accessing volumes of charitable food is increasingly difficult due to supermarket rationing and, in some cases, hoarding. Strict social distancing and isolation requirements mean that food banks need to home deliver parcels rather than chatting over a cup of tea at the food bank. Lastly, many of the 28,000 regular food bank volunteers are older, and some have underlying health conditions, meaning they can’t volunteer during the crisis.

With the Trussell Trust desperately needing manpower and delivery support, we are in the unique position to help by encouraging our colleagues across the UK to volunteer, and also by utilising our vehicle fleet, which is the third largest in the UK.

So how’s it going to work? Our people – especially our field force – will be volunteering to help in three ways; collecting bulk donations of food items from supermarkets and wholesalers and dropping them at local food banks; sorting and packing food at the food banks; and lastly by delivering pre-sorted food parcels from food banks direct to the doorstep of vulnerable people’s homes. For our colleagues that want to help but can’t volunteer at this time, we’re making it easy for them to make a donation instead.

The support of our people will mean food banks will be able to continue to reach vulnerable people at this critical time, and I am delighted that we have been able to help in this way.

Supporting Carers UK’s helpline

As well as setting up the new initiative with the Trussell Trust, I am really pleased that we have also been able to support our existing charity partner, Carers UK, to help carers and carees impacted by Coronavirus.

Carers UK run a national helpline and email support service, which is normally open two days a week. However, it has seen a 60% increase in demand in recent weeks, and they have not been able to answer everyone who needs help. Carers urgently need advice on care and social distancing, resources for remote caring and support with food and community services. So, for the next 12 weeks, we’re helping Carers UK to keep the helpline and email service running throughout the week, so that they can provide vital support and advice to everyone that needs it during this critical time.

Coronavirus has already had an unprecedented impact on all of our lives and it will continue to do so for some time, no doubt. One really positive thing I have taken from the last few weeks is people’s compassion and energy to rally around and support people in need in their community. It’s a wonderful thing and we should all be inspired by that. I certainly am, and have registered to volunteer at my local food bank.