Thatcham family-started group Joining Together in lockdown marks anniversary of helping others
A GROUP started by a Thatcham family in the first weeks of the coronavirus lockdown has marked a year of helping people across West Berkshire.
During the first lockdown, Karen and Phil de Monte and their daughter Lindsay placed cardboard cut-outs of themselves on the Nature Discovery Centre fence in Lower Way.
Attached was the message "we will fight this together". A year later and Joining Together has grown to more than 3,000 people banding together to help people in need.
More than 300 cut-outs were placed on the Lower Way fence alone, with around another 300 springing up outside schools and other parts of West Berkshire.
Mrs de Monte said: "I am blown away by how far the group has come. From those early days of the cardboard cut outs, and now, nearly 3,500 members later, its incredible.
"Once I realised how fast the group was building, I wanted to find other ways of bringing everyone together."
The group has swelled during the pandemic with people wanting to help others and recognise the good deeds performed during lockdown.
A pass it on section was set up allowing members to donate items for free to people in need. This led on to a `helping hands` section for a family who had lost everything in a house fire.
Mrs de Monte said: "Within hours of making an appeal on the group, we had managed to find a huge amount of extremely kind donations, ranging from furniture, clothing for all the family, down to kitchen items, bedding and toys for the little girl."
Compassion has been at the heart of the group since its inception and Mrs de Monte said she was always trying to think of ways to help others.
"During the Christmas period, I began to think about all the people, particularly a lot of group members, who were worrying about finances," Mrs de Monte said.
"Many have been struck by financial problems, due to Covid, and I desperately wanted to see if I could find a way of helping."
A Santa's little helpers appeal was launched for nominations of people deserving of a stocking full of goodies.
"The response was huge. The community couldn`t seem to donate enough presents, it was unbelievable," Mrs de Monte added.
A message later came through about a courier and their family being attacked in Newbury, and, again, the Joining Together community rallied to help.
Mrs de Monte said: "That is the wonderful thing about this group, many members may not have much when it comes to money and material things, but when it comes to compassion, they are very rich indeed."
The group's efforts saw them finish in the highly-commended category of West Berkshire Council's community champions community group of the year award.
Family activities including crafts and online quizzes have also been held and the group recently ran its first annual Easter Egg hunt in Lower Way. More than 100 people attended to hunt for 90 large chocolate eggs, sweets, craft kits and Easter bags and baskets were donated by local residents and businesses.
The treat hunt follows donations to local schools, nursing homes, the West Berkshire Community Hospital, doctors surgeries, pharmacies, Newbury Police and Fire service, and the Newbury Racecourse Vaccination Centre.
Children's Activity packs and grown up pamper packs filled with donated items have also been pegged around communities.
Children's messages include "Help yourselves. Have fun, and if you are able, please refill, and pass on the kindness to someone else", while adult packs say "You are doing amazing, put your feet up, and take some time for yourselves."
Mrs de Monte said the packs had been a huge success and that she had lost count at about 500.
Competitions to nominate incredible key workers for prizes and a junior lockdown superstars competition for young people who had performed good deeds to help others attracted a range of prizes from local people and businesses.
Mrs de Monte is now appealing for items for an auction of promises, with all money going towards "more fantastic activities for all the great families that have shown so much love and support this past year".
And there are no signs of the deep well of community spirit running dry.
Mrs de Monte said: "I receive messages daily, whether it be people looking for help in some way, or people offering help in some way.
"This past year has been such a rollercoaster for a lot of people, and it`s also brought out the best in so many people."
Asked if more cut outs would appear, Mrs de Monte said: "I certainly hope so now the weather will, hopefully begin to improve. I would love to see lots of happy, bright, positive messages about life going forwards...watch this space."