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Throughout the Coronovirus pandemic and the UK’s lockdown, we’ve seen countless people step up to help others.

All over the country, communities have come together to support those locally who are vulnerable or at risk, while individuals have found ways both big and small to make a difference.

From keeping key workers fit and healthy to creating meals for the homeless and hard working doctors, it’s been incredible to see how much can be achieved.

And that’s why Co-op has teamed up with Heart to say thank you to these Local Heroes for all they’ve been doing at this difficult time. So if you know someone who’s been making a big difference in your area, now is your chance to celebrate them.

Head to win.heart.co.uk/co-op-2020 to nominate your local hero and they could win one of four fantastic prize bundles.

Here are just a few of the UK’s inspiring people and how they’ve been getting involved.

Bringing Bhangra dance to communities near and far
Rajeev Gupta is a journalist and Bhangra instructor from Greater Manchester. Before lockdown he was teaching three classes a week to locals in the area, but had to find a new way to connect when restrictions meant he could no longer teach in person.

“I‘ve been teaching Bhangra for about 15 years in various guises and it has evolved into Bhangracise classes which have grown in popularity. Bhangra in itself is very cardio vascular, very energetic and high impact and with Bhangracise I’ve taken all the moves, all that happiness and that energy that comes with it and we go all out! We put all those moves together and we do them almost on repeat.

“I get about 30 people in a class normally, with a mixture of ages which is brilliant. The youngest in the kids’ class are about four years old and the oldest is about 70. When lockdown began it was just short of devastating to be honest. The classes were at their peak.

“A few people in the class had messaged me saying they were missing their Bhangra hit and what could they do. I wasn’t sure if online was going to work for something like this. How would I even go about doing it? I’m not that tech savvy!

“I thought I’d give it a crack and actually I thought it could help people. The mood of the nation was very worried at the time and Bhangra is such a happy dance, it really gets the endorphins going like no other. I thought there’s something here that could help people.

“I recorded a taster video and that went viral. I just posted it in a few groups and it had over 100K views. This was only the second video I’d done. I was just ‘wow’. No pressure!

“Now I’m going live three times a week. It’s growing and growing and is reaching people all around the world. In New Zealand and Australia, people are tuning in when it’s 11pm there. On average I’d say I have about eight to 10 thousand views every session. It’s amazing.

“The response has been so positive. I’ve had so many messages and comments. People say things like ‘thank you so much, this has really helped my mental health. It kept us sane during lockdown.’ People say the kindest things, like I’m an inspiration and I’m just like ‘I just do Bhangra in my living room’.

Watch Rajeev in action…

“I get an overwhelming sense of happiness when I’m teaching. Bhangra just makes you feel really uplifted. The music is infectious. I’m really enjoying it, it’s keeping me focused and I feel good that I’m doing something people are saying is helping them.”

Connect through Co-op
Do you want to be a Local Hero like Rajeev? Or maybe you’re in need of some support.

If so, Co-op can connect you through Co-operate.

The online community platform connects people and organisations who can offer support to individuals in need.

From getting food and other essentials, right through to help accessing online classes and activities, such as Rajeev’s.

You could even add your own virtual event too.

It’s created with communities, for communities, and is owned by communities. Find out more at https://co-operate.coop.co.uk/support/

Helping bereaved families stay connected
Peter Heggie is a Member Pioneer Coordinator for Co-op and manages a team of 10 across the West Lothian and Falkirk areas. When lockdown was announced his team sprang into action finding ways to help their communities. One person really stood out; Charlotte Renwick. Here’s why…

“The idea with the Member Pioneers is to create a connection between the people who live in our community, the organisations in our community and the Co-op food and Funeralcare colleagues.

“The Co-op food business is very local and we know our customers so we were able to mobilise our Member Pioneers to immediately help people who were self-isolating. Some of my team deliver groceries to people in the community and we’ve built relationships with schools, where we’ve got them creating kindness cards, which we take along to care homes and people who are self-isolating.

“When the pandemic came, people were told they couldn’t attend funerals and Funeralcare is a big part of our business. They realised people wouldn’t be able to travel to a funeral and there were limitations on how many people could attend. You weren’t allowed to have funeral cars, so we couldn’t, as usual, pick people up and find ways to connect.

“So one of the Funeralcare team from the Livingston branch approached Charlotte and asked if there was something they could do to find a way to connect people who are going through one of the worst times of their lives, losing a member of their family or a friend.

“She came up with the idea of knitting hearts. One of the hearts would be given to members of the family who couldn’t attend the funeral and a matching heart would be placed with the deceased, so at the time of the funeral there’s a real connection. It’s something people could have and something they can keep as well.

Peter McWilliams, Co-op Funeralcare Logistics Manager for West Lothian and the Forth Valley, Scotland, said: “Many Co-op funeralcare homes across the UK are getting involved and knitting hearts, which are designed to bring some comfort to bereaved families at such a difficult and sad time.”

“Giving family members a knitted heart that is identical to the one that is laid to rest with a loved one means that they can carry a piece of their heart with them at all times.”

“It’s made an absolutely incredible difference and the feedback has been phenomenal. People are saying it’s given them a way to be a part of it. It’s created something really unique.

“The way to make a massive difference in your community is just to get involved and be a part of it.”

Come together for your community
Like Charlotte and Peter, you can take on a crucial role in your local area by becoming one of Co-op’s Member Pioneers.

Member Pioneers are Co-op’s community activists. They bring together Co-op members, colleagues and local causes to make communities a better place to live. They build community wellbeing at a local level and offer practical advice and help.

It’s a permanent, part time role and you could make a real difference in your community.

Want to get involved? Check out jobs.coop.co.uk/member-pioneers for more information.

Feeding key workers and the homeless
After Daksha Varsani and her husband Paresh Jethwa created 50 meals for hard working staff at a hospital in Harrow, north London, they found themselves inundated with requests for more. They founded the Community Response Kitchen and haven’t looked back, making and delivering over 120,000 meals since the start of lockdown.

“It all started when my niece got in touch saying she was in Northwick Park Hospital where there were a lot of positive cases of Coronavirus and the nurses were working 14 to 16 hours a day, struggling to get food.

“The canteens were closed and staff shortages meant they couldn’t leave the wards to go, so me and my husband reached out to people with home baking and home cooking certifications and started out with 50 meals.

“Now we have over 50 people volunteering and 15 drivers. We distribute food to as far as Hillingdon and Acton, as far as east London to homeless shelters and into central London. We cook 1000 to 3000 meals a day depending on the particular day, including sandwiches, drinks and care packages.

“We use a lot of left over food from local supermarkets and local bakeries support us. A bakery in Temple Fortune gives us fresh bread every Tuesday. There are a lot of people supporting us and we haven’t had a single grant. It’s all the communities. This is the most important part. We started without a single penny but we have enough stock to feed a lot of people and we have stock coming in every day, not from any government funding, not from any projects, just the communities and businesses that have come together.

“For the homeless shelters we provide a hot meal and a sandwich pack so they can have two meals a day. We also support schools. A headteacher contacted us to say she has 20 families on very low incomes who are struggling, so we sent care packages. Today she asked for a hot meal and for biscuits and sweets for the children who are in the families too.

“And the other area we found needed support was district nurses. They have been placed in central London because they’ve had to open makeshift clinics for community patients who would normally go to hospitals. So they reached out and asked if we could support their nurses. We’ve been supporting about 20 to 30 of those clinics every day.

Food and drinks delivered safely to Hillingdon Hospital
“We’re very proud because we haven’t had any funding and yet we are able to support all these organisations. As a community we have come together and we get messages of gratitude every day from doctors. The response has been really amazing.

“The volunteers who are coming in every single day, they always have smiles on their faces in the morning. They are our strength. That is the biggest thing that keeps us going on a daily basis. Without this team and the chefs we are nowhere.”

Helping feed families in need
Like Daksha, Paresh and their team of volunteers, Co-op has been helping to ensure that food reaches those who need it most.

The supermarket got behind food redistribution charity FareShare and donated £1.5m worth of food to support those in need due to Coronavirus.

In addition, it also donated its TV campaign to the cause, encouraging members and customers to donate via text, in store or by donating their Member Rewards, making a huge difference in communities all over the UK.

Do you know a Local Hero like Daksha and Paresh? Well Co-op has partnered with Heart to help you say thank you to the people in your area who’ve been making a difference in the local community.

Head to win.heart.co.uk/co-op-2020 to nominate them and they could win one of four fantastic prize bundles.

Delivering essential items to those in need
Sandy Marshall, 43, a Chief Officer on motor yachts, is more used to being at sea than on the road. But when lockdown put a stop to his plans to set sail in March, he decided to make the most of his time stuck on dry land…

“I was preparing to leave the UK for the South of France for the start of the yacht season. I had a dental appointment which had been pushed back, so my departure was delayed and then the government called for lockdown so, of course, I had to stay put.”

“With the future uncertain and no real idea of when I could go back to work, I wanted to make a contribution to the community and make myself useful.

“With the country in full lockdown, I identified that vital supplies needed urgent delivery and felt this could be my way to get involved.

“I did extensive research, leased a van and ensured I had all the insurances and certifications I needed to be a commercial courier. Then I set up a website and marketed myself for any work delivering crucial equipment and food supplies.

“Almost immediately I was on the road. 12 to 15 hour days are standard and I’ve been doing them five days a week. I’m based in Bedford but I’ve been travelling as far north as Preston, as well as delivering to the surrounding area.

“I’ve delivered tens of thousands of 3M FFP3 face masks and surgical gowns to hospitals. I’ve delivered respirators, protective screens for drive-thru retailers and vinyl floor markings for enforced distancing, as well as food parcels for the elderly.

“Everyone has adapted to the new normal and measures are in place so I don’t feel at risk. I’m rarely in close contact with people and if I am, I wear my own PPE. Delivering the medical supplies makes it all worthwhile. Most of these types of jobs are booked in the evening, so I’ve pulled a few over-nighters.

“But even in the dead of night, I’m generally welcomed with gratitude. I’m just so pleased to be helping the vulnerable and elderly. And while I prefer the sea to dry land, I’m making a contribution, so it’s all good!”

Make a difference in your community
Like Sandy, you can take on a crucial role in your local area too.

Member Pioneers are Co-op’s community activists. They bring together Co-op members, colleagues and local causes to make communities a better place to live. They build community wellbeing at a local level and offer practical advice and help.

It’s a permanent, part time role and you could make a real difference in your community.

Want to get involved? Check out jobs.coop.co.uk/member-pioneers for more information.

Keeping their fitness community going strong
Caroline and Dan Smith, both 41, run Northern Bootcamp on the beautiful Northumberland coast and are used to working with hundreds of people each year. When lockdown began their business closed until further notice, but keen to keep their community together, they started sharing their bootcamp online and even found a way to help our amazing key workers.

“The thing we love about our bootcamp is changing people’s lives. The fact you’ve got the opportunity to help change someone’s mindset and lifestyle is amazing. The first two weeks of lockdown were awful and we both felt really lost. Suddenly we just felt useless.

“We’re based in Bamburgh on the Northumberland Coast and it’s absolutely stunning. We usually train on the beach every morning with the groups. We do lots of activities like paddle boarding and canoeing, it’s not just circuits all day.

“I decided we’d launch a virtual thing. We just started doing classes with friends. Then we realised we could offer it for clients. We looked at doing them for whoever wanted to join and now we’ve got a real hardcore following. We’re doing 22 classes a week.

“It’s really good fun. Dan and I are loving doing the classes. We do free sessions for local key workers and have got at least four key workers in every class. People working in hospitals are doing 7am classes or 6am classes and then going off to work, or coming in from a night shift.

“Someone working in paediatrics, she’s been doing loads of classes and asked if we could do a Friday class for her. She’s absolutely loving the classes and says it just transformed her lockdown. We have a policewoman who has been working really hard and she asked if we could add a class for her because she couldn’t fit into the ones on our schedule, so we just kept adding them.

“At the end some people stay on for a chat so they’re getting to know each other, they’re socialising with other people and exercising together. We’re getting loads of families on doing the same class. We had three generations last week. Kids were working out with their parents and then the granny joined from somewhere else.

“I think there’s no better way to keep your sanity. Mentally it transforms your day. You can be feeling tired, lethargic, a bit down in the dumps and you turn up and it transforms it.”

Running for others
Caroline and Dan prove that keeping fit can go hand in hand with helping others and that’s one of the reasons Co-op has teamed up with parkrun (parkrun.org.uk), to ensure food and essentials reach its most vulnerable customers at this difficult time.

parkrun, the free 5k community event, is encouraging its parkrunners to volunteer through Co-op, to deliver groceries to those unable to leave their homes. It means they can help others and keep active. Find out how you can be involved at co-operate.coop.co.uk/support

Helping those in need with equine therapy
Giles and Jo Boddington run the Bodster Equine Assisted Learning Centre on the Isle of Wight. Using their herd of ponies, they work with people with additional needs, whether that’s school children with emotional difficulties, the long term unemployed or adults with mental health issues. They even take ponies to visit elderly people in residential care homes. Worried about how they could continue to support those in their community during lockdown, they took their ponies online!

“We just thought ‘how can we keep interacting with them and provide for all of them?’ We do a lot of what’s called loose work with the horses, where a learner will be with a pony in a little sandy area where they could just go and be with the pony. A lot of looking at the horses in the field, asking ‘how do they interact with each other’.

“There’s a lot of work around helping people gain more self-awareness. Horses are great teachers from that point of view because there’s no kind of side to them.

“With our virtual sessions they can’t have physical contact but you can do a lot of work observation wise. We use our phones on Skype or FaceTime and we try and get the learner to lead the session. So we’ll ask, ‘how is the pony looking, are they relaxed?’ and then what you’ll find is, this is the point when people start talking.

“There’s a lot of support and we do work on helping them develop strategies for coping, even though they’re not present in person.

“There’s a care home in Shanklin that we’ve done about four sessions with now. The activities coordinator at the home will take a tablet screen around to different residents. So we’ll talk to somebody and then she’ll move on. For them it’s bringing something special into the home.

“We’re doing 22 sessions a week. It’s very rewarding that we can make a difference. We live in a beautiful spot so it’s really good to be able to share that with people.”

Helping you to help your community
Do you want to be a Local Hero like Giles and Jo? Or do you have a project that needs some support?

Co-op Members have helped over 21,000 local causes across the UK, raising over £60million.

The Local Community Fund is looking for new projects to support. If you’re a local cause helping those most in need, improving mental & physical wellbeing or building community resilience apply by 28th June.