By guest editor Paul McCusker, above, Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, SDLP councillor, community activist and co-founder of St Patrick’s Soup Kitchen

As the weeks and days roll into one, we sit, stare, and imagine what could be done in the sun.

For many, recent times have been a case of Déjà vu, Groundhog Day, Every Day Is Like Sunday, or simply, “I’m bored”. For others who have worked on our frontline, it has been everything but repetitive or boring and it is to these wonderful people I want to pay tribute as I contemplate the content of this tribute to the heroes.

It is at times like this that we need to appreciate the selfless contribution of the many unsung heroes who live among us and carry out essential tasks without looking for praise or favour. In my capacity as guest editor, I feel it is important to take a few paragraphs to mention some names and give thanks. We are extremely fortunate that so many are caring for the good of us all. 

‘It has been my pleasure to assist in St Patrick’s Soup Kitchen, who help deliver essential items, assist in securing accommodation and support for many of our most vulnerable people’

As you are all aware, there are too many to name, but let us all take time to think of and pay tribute to the brave people working in the health and care sector, post office, supermarkets, waste disposal, and emergency services (particularly the paramedics). I would like to make a personal tribute to the many unsung heroes working in the community, caring for elderly or vulnerable people, be they relatives, friends or neighbours. The sacrifices so many of these people have made could be under-appreciated and I can’t begin to imagine a world devoid of their hard work, bravery, and care. I am sure we are all aware that things would have been much more harrowing without their contribution.

I have personally experienced a community spirit and togetherness that we in north Belfast can be very proud of. It has been my pleasure to assist in St Patrick’s Soup Kitchen, who help deliver essential items, assist in securing accommodation and support for many of our most vulnerable people.

Belfast has been the only city in Ireland or the UK to have ensured all our homeless have been given somewhere to rest safely and securely. I would personally like to acknowledge the success of this multi-agency approach involving: St Patrick’s Soup Kitchen, NIHE, Extern, and the Welcome Organisation working together to show how the community has effectively minimised the risk of Covid-19 to those who are homeless. 

The food crisis many of us have experienced during this time has also highlighted the marvellous work of our NB Advice Partnership foodbank and their 50 plus volunteers.  Thanks also to Holy Cross Boys Primary School who opened their doors to enable social distancing among workers, while they organise the countless food parcels and deliver vital goods to the most in need throughout north Belfast, the Shankill, and the greater Belfast area.  Referrals for food support have come from a multitude of providers, including advice staff, community and voluntary groups, BHSCT, Family Support, Sure Start, and schools. It is important also to remember the staff and volunteers from Ardoyne Association. This group has worked five days every week to go shopping, collect and deliver prescriptions, and provide a friendly face to those who may otherwise feel isolated and lonely.

It is also necessary to mention the support provided by PIPS who have continued their vital work and have begun a new initiative, ‘The Befriending Service’, which sets out to “offer emotional support and a listening ear to those who feel isolated or are not coping well with the lockdown.”

Considering all of the above and the work so many do to ensure we are safe and secure, it is important that we recognise the importance of our community in terms of the care they provide and the tireless work of so many to help us all get through this frightening time. We should feel immensely proud that we are all part of this wonderfully-spirited and caring community of people and services.

The most difficult thing for me is witnessing the impact on children and families who are unable to visit their loved ones and those who were elderly at home and in nursing homes but are unaware of why they can’t get visitors. The lack of social contact with family and friends, including support services, has meant lots of people have been finding it hard to cope. 

And finally, as we binge on Ricky Gervais in After Life, The Tiger King or Yasmeen’s plight in Coronation Street, I hope you all appreciate the importance of our continued diligence and let’s see this thing out of our lives by listening to the advice to social distance, kicking complacency into touch and supporting those who deserve our thanks and support, not only in the local community but throughout our wonderful city.   

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