THE LOCKDOWN may be easing, but a group of dedicated volunteers are still putting in the hours to help their community.

The Hexham Courant launched its bouquet of the week appeal in April with the aim of celebrating special citizens across the Tyne Valley.

And this week, we shine a light on the Ponteland Community Group which has been lending a helping hand to those in need.

In the third week of March, Dr Ela Akay, a neurologist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, in Newcastle, put out a call on Facebook for volunteers.

And within a matter of weeks, an army of over 120 registered volunteers was formed.

“One good thing to come out of the crisis is that it has drawn people together," said Ela, who has lived in Ponteland for three years. "The situation is so rapidly evolving that these groups are needed and there is a lot of support in the community."

The group has been involved in a number of community campaigns, which has seen over 1,000 toiletry bags donated to staff at Northumbria NHS Trust hospitals.

Ela said: “The hospital asked for 10 to 20 bags per week, so we thought if we got 50 or 100 it would be really good, but the community donated a huge volume of products.

“It’s amazing really how people are rallying together. Local dentists and pharmacists gave toothbrushes and lip balms and members of the public donated over 100 face cloths.”

Meanwhile, the ‘Our Street Can’ food collection and distribution service has seen over 13,000 items donated in only its third week of running.

Donations are kindly sorted by staff at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel at Newcastle International Airport.

The group has also been working with high street retailer Waitrose and together they have processed over 700 food orders to be distributed to elderly and vulnerable people across Ponteland, which coordinators have divided into smaller geographical areas.

“It’s very humbling the support we have received," said Ela, who is also a church leader. "No matter who you are, everyone is affected in some way."

And the work of the group will not stop there, as it hopes to set up a bereavement befriending help line, to complement more formal services, to support in the aftermath of the virus.

“The virus is not going to just go away”, explained Ela. “People are dying in very different circumstances and it’s really distressing for families.

“We are anticipating that people will need support, a friendly chat, with someone who isn’t a friend of family member.”

All volunteers will be trained and the group will work closely with local GPs, social services and the Northumberland County Council’s Communities Together team.

“You can see you’re making a difference and I feel lucky to be in a position to do that. We’re still here”, said Ela.

Anyone still in need of help or support is encouraged to contact volunteers by email (hello@pontelandco) or by phone (01661) 825092.

To nominate somebody, click here.