COVID-19 might have placed Middlezoy under lockdown, but the pandemic only strengthened community spirit, giving time to unleash energy and a willingness to help others, centred on the invaluable village shop.
The shop and Post Office in Middlezoy was started 12 years ago by the late Vernon Robinson as a community-run concern.
The village was then without any facilities for over a year until frustrated residents formed a committee to organise the current day, volunteer-run building.
As concern surrounding Covid-19 began to grow, the (largely vulnerable) group of volunteers who have kept the shop running for over a decade began to feel uncomfortable continuing to serve in what is a very small space and it became apparent that unless the younger generation stepped in, the shop would need to close.
Numerous individuals had already openly expressed a desire to support the village and its residents in any way they could. The village streets were soon allocated to individual volunteers who leafleted every home, ensuring that anyone in need of help getting food, prescriptions or running errands knew a number to call.
A second team of volunteers then came together to take over the reins of the shop from those who have worked for many years keeping it afloat.
New volunteers were quickly trained by those stepping to one side and the transition ran smoothly thanks to the ongoing help of the (self-isolating) shop manager, Jennie Fry and the Post Office manager, Linda Davey. who continued as before, at the same time as supporting and teaching the volunteer team.
Over the following days, weeks and months, Middlezoy’s very own PR girl, Rachel Worth, kept residents updated on the Facebook village news page with announcements, calls-to-action and posts of community progress so that the villagers were easily able to work together and isolating residents quickly became aware of the efforts of support from neighbours to keep them safe.
It soon became apparent that nobody should be serving in the tight space of the Portakabin, especially as it had to be accessed for the Post Office counter, so a team of skilled chaps with their tools built an outdoor counter and pergola shelter to allow all shop customers to be served (at distance) outdoors.
Neighbours from a local business (The Nurture Shed) also donated their contactless payment device so that volunteers could keep themselves and any visiting customers as safe as possible. Florence Roulson trained herself up on how it worked and rolled out the training.
Of great importance to many residents is their daily newspaper so again, younger volunteers came forward and were quickly trained to take over the management of newspapers and the many villagers began to enjoy expecting a delivery from their (not so teenage) newspaper boy.
As the spread of Covid-19 continued to grow and advice was given for those older or medically-vulnerable to go into complete lockdown, a decision was made to look at not only using the shop to ensure supplies continued coming into the village, but using it to offer a weekly home delivery service too.
Kate Carr devised a plan, Rachel Worth built a website to facilitate online ordering, Jason Mackay set up a Facebook page and contactless payment system and Aviva Morris took responsibility of offering a telephone ordering service, so that the home deliveries were accessible to all residents including those who don’t have the will or means to make an online order.
Sandy Rogers from the neighbouring Chapel agreed support by way of donating the chapel’s Sunday School room for the storing of produce. Fridges were donated by local residents (and kindly PAT tested by Paul Hammacott) while Sarah Blake wrote a ‘hazard analysis’ ensuring that the correct protocols were in place and that the highest standards of food hygiene could be met.
A further team of volunteers then came together in family/house groups to assist in the packing and delivery of weekly orders.
While all of this activity centred on the wonderful village shop, there was also a whole lot of energy across the village to keep residents’ spirits up, gardens pretty, children entertained and educated, and grown-ups safe and sane.
Each Saturday morning a team put on a themed socially distanced dance which helped boost spirit in the community.
Sarita Parish introduced the idea of a weekly alternating dress code according to the colours of the NHS rainbow, and wrote weekly play lists to be enjoyed by all generations.
James Horrox and some of the guys from Desolate Sound System gave their time and huge speakers (otherwise used for festivals). Music was blasted across the village so that all in Middlezoy could hear (sometimes further afield).
The list of people giving time to support this community is endless and further encouraged by the ongoing appreciation and gratitude from isolating neighbours and members of the shop committee (not to mention recognition on The Pride of Britain, social media, local radio and the weekend edition of the Independent newspaper.
The local Nurture Shed put together children’s activity packs, a school teacher teamed up with a local mum and drew out an amazing chalk course around the perimeter of the village school, an Easter and cycle treasure hunt was put together, full-time/key workers helped out with shopping for vulnerable neighbours and after a busy day would sometimes visit numerous supermarkets in order to help re-stock the village shop with products like flour, paracetamol, pasta and toilet-roll that was almost impossible to get hold of.
Jo Rowan started making beautiful face masks that have been flying off the shelves.
A church scheme managed by Sarah Blake has provided activity packs to children, and older residents began supporting the Taunton Scrubber group, making scrubs and gowns for NHS workers.
Middlezoy is very proud of what its residents have achieved during lockdown and as restrictions begin to lift, there is hope that the community spirit and teamwork lives long into the future.
Photo: FOUR of the volunteers receive their ‘thank you’ cards in appreciation for their time and effort in supporting the community in Middlezoy during lockdown. From left: Matt Carr, Sarita Parish, Jill Darby and Marcia Dare.