TV presenter and eco-designer Jay Blades, the face of hugely popular show The Repair Shop, has today unveiled 12 benches across the UK which have been handcrafted in a bespoke design to honour society’s unheralded champions.
The pandemic has challenged individuals and communities like never before, with people pulling together with neighbours, local community groups and charities to provide much-needed care and support. New insights released today from The National Lottery reveal that almost half of people (49%) feel, that notwithstanding the hardships of the pandemic, one of the positives to emerge is the sense of community spirit and 58% have an increased appreciation for community workers (58%). This reinvigorated connection with the community and a third saying they know their neighbours better than before means that 4 in 5 (80%) actually feel safer because of it.
In some communities, the actions of a few have made life bearable for many. Sarah-Jane Piper and Michelle Thomson’s Blind and Sight Impaired Society (BASIS) project is just one example of the thousands of people and projects across the UK who have received National Lottery funding in order to support communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sarah-Jane Piper and Michelle Thomson are two of the people across the UK receiving a bespoke community bench for their work with 150 visually impaired people in Basildon, Essex who they supported day in day out during lockdown and continue to do so. Between the two of them, they provide shopping services and doorstep food parcels, prescription deliveries, arranging house repairs and social care interventions as well as all-important emotional support through their telephone befriending service.
Sarah-Jane Piper, Project coordinator at Blind and Sight Impaired Society (BASIS) said:
“Many visually impaired people found themselves in crisis at the start of lockdown, they needed support they could depend on week in week out. We have been running the BASIS befriending service for years but knew during lockdown that we had to adapt in order to support our community further. Our aim was to make those people with visual impairments feel safe during a very scary time and without the funding from The National Lottery we simply wouldn’t have been able to provide this level of service.”
The bench installed at Gloucester Park in Basildon, Essex features built-in dog bowls for guide dogs or any other canine companions and is emblazoned with the poignant quote “seeing is not the only way to have a vision”. All of the benches include a QR code that will allow visitors to listen to an audio recording of Jay Blades regaling the individuals’ stories and boast written dedications in braille.
Jay Blades said: “I’ve been really humbled to hear some exceptional stories of people who do so much to protect the vulnerable and care for many of those who live on the edges of our society. We are going through incredibly tough times, and unfortunately, no one expects that it will be over soon. But I’ve been inspired to see their work being recognised and to see the new networks we’ve created. We live in a very advanced, digital world, but we seem to have rediscovered what it really means to live side by side with each other again. Those bonds that connect us have really sprung to the surface.”
This increased appreciation for people who help others in their community has led to a greater desire from the public to honour them. So much so, that eight times as many people would rather buy a drink for a local community worker than an A-list celebrity. In addition, ten times as many people would rather hear about stories of kindness in their local community than stories about show-biz celebrities.
When it comes to who we value and celebrate in our ever-changing world, more than 3 in 4 people (78%) believe it is more important to have award ceremonies that celebrate everyday people that helped people in their community than award ceremonies that celebrate music or movie stars such as the Grammys or Oscars.
With such changing attitudes in mind, The National Lottery is today launching a campaign in dedication to previously unheralded individuals who have responded to the challenges of the pandemic to make other people’s lives a bit more bearable, comfortable and enjoyable, just when they needed it most. People who may not feel that their actions and efforts are anything special but have had a positive and profound impact across the arts, community, heritage and sports sectors around the UK, using some of the £30m a week raised by National Lottery players.
Dawn Austwick, CEO of The National Lottery Community Fund said:
“For 26 years The National Lottery has helped make amazing things happen, but never in such extraordinary times. People and communities have found themselves facing myriad challenges and pressures but have still found the passion and drive to support each other in so many different ways. This research shows that their incredible work has not gone unnoticed and is in fact recognised, valued and inspiring others more than ever before.”
Emma Kenny, a psychologist, said: “These increased connections within your local area can have huge psychological benefits for you and the people around you. Feeling connected, and having a sense of belonging, are conditions that are beneficial on all levels for physical and mental wellbeing. When you experience a sense of community, you are more likely to feel secure and reassured, which can offer a sense of safety, particularly during such turbulent time.”
The National Lottery contributes around £30 million to good causes in the UK every week. With the help of this funding, thousands of people and thousands of projects across the UK are supporting their communities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. These efforts are making a huge difference to people’s wellbeing, particularly those who are more vulnerable and isolated.