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Dorset’s High Sheriff George Streatfeild visited Gillingham on Friday 4 September and met some of the community volunteers who helped the town through the Covid crisis.

Mr Streatfeild, who was making his first visit to the town, met mayor Barry Von Clemens, town clerk Julie Hawkins, deputy town clerk Clare Ratcliffe, the volunteer project’s administrator Serena Burgess, volunteer Emma Christopher and town councillor Fiona Cullen.

The High Sheriff – who is the Queen’s representative in Dorset – was shown the flower bed opposite the town meadow where there are 134 hearts with the names of all the volunteers who took part in the scheme during lockdown to ensure that the town’s most vulnerable and isolated people were looked after.

George Streatfeild, volunteers, Gillingham
High Sheriff George Streatfeild, centre left with, left to right, Gillingham town clerk Julie Hawkins, volunteer Emma Christopher and mayor Barry Von Clemens; second row, works manager Simon Dobie, project administrator Serena Burgess, deputy town clerk Clare Ratcliffe, Councillor Fiona Cullen and deputy works manager Martin Down.

Mr Streatfeild told Gillingham News: ‘I met some fantastic people who had done incredible things during lockdown and I came away from Gillingham totally overawed by what had been achieved by the whole community.

‘Not every town has ensured, as well as you, that no one was left isolated or without food, medicines or someone to whom they could talk. It is a remarkable credit to everyone – town council, volunteers and shopkeepers who all pulled together.’

George Streatfeild, High Sheriff, Gillingham
High Sheriff George Streatfeild talking with volunteer Emma Christopher, with Gillingham town clerk Julie Hawkins and mayor Barry Von Clemens looking on.

Councillor Von Clemens said: ‘It’s really nice that the High Sheriff has taken the time to come to Gillingham to hear about how we dealt with Covid and to learn some of the things that we learnt, and to meet some of the volunteers.

‘It’s something the town should be very proud of, that the High Sheriff has taken the time to come.’

The mayor revealed that he had also just received a card that morning from the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, thanking the town for all the work the volunteers had done.

‘These are the representatives of the Queen within the county. It’s praise for everyone who’s worked so hard to get our community through Covid,’ said Councillor Von Clemens.

During his visit Mr Streatfeild also visited the town hall, saw the new benches near the town bridge that were designed by pupils from Gillingham School, and visited the Slade Centre.

George Streatfeild bench Gillingham
High Sheriff George Streatfeild with Gillingham mayor Barry Von Clemens on one of the benches designed by pupils at Gillingham School.

The High Sheriff, who is from near Bridport, said he was keen to visit as many parts of the county as possible and said that though he was Dorset ‘born and bred’ this was the first time he had been to Gillingham.

He said that he had a particular interest in young people and the issues of drugs and county lines and during his year in office would be paying particular attention to the work of organisations which help prevent people falling into the criminal justice system.

On that theme the High Sheriff praised the outreach group Rendezvous – which works with disadvantaged youngsters in Gillingham – and also the town council for backing it.

‘It is exceptional that your town council has financially supported Rendezvous to work with young people and fight the scourge of drugs,’ said Mr Streatfeild. ‘To accept there is a problem and then support an organisation which is doing something about that is just marvellous.’

The town’s community response to the Covid crisis began on March 20 when the mayor, Councillor Von Clemens, held a meeting with representatives from local voluntary groups, schools and supermarkets to gain support to help residents. The schools asked parents for volunteers, and local groups and organisations, including the Gillingham Support Group, contacted their members with details of the town council’s proposals, and a list of volunteers was drawn up.

Following the lockdown announcement, the deputy mayor, Paul Harris, set up a Community Emergency Management Team (CEMT). Its members were Councillor Harris, the town clerk project administrator Serena Burgess, and councillors Fiona Cullen and Roger Weeks.

It created a database of streets and number of properties, telephoning volunteers to go through a registration process and allocating a volunteer to every street in the parish. Volunteers agreed to do tasks such as shopping, collecting prescriptions, befriending, and walking dogs for residents.

By 30 March 2020, the team had put together a network of more than 130 volunteers covering every street in Gillingham, from Bainley Bottom to Lox Lane and from Huntingford to Madjeston – a total of 240 areas.

community volunteers covid Gillingham
The heart-shaped sign thanking community volunteers in Gillingham.
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