University researcher leads community virus fight

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The University of Dundee’s Professor Jill Belch has helped mobilise a Perthshire community in the fight against coronavirus.

In addition to being a cardiovascular researcher and physician, Professor Belch is a member of the Scone & District Community Council (SDCC) and when COVID-19 first started impacting on the lives of those most vulnerable in her home town, she was determined to help them out.

She was far from alone and, in response to residents contacting the community council to offer assistance, she used social media to bring potential volunteers together and coordinate their efforts.

This quickly turned into a mass community effort, with the SDCC Helpers page on Facebook eliciting almost 150 offers of help as businesses, groups and individuals signed up to support their vulnerable friends and neighbours.

Due to its high proportion of elderly residents, Scone is expected to be hit hard by the coronavirus but the army of volunteers are helping to provide vital services such as shopping, collecting prescriptions and calling older residents to check on their wellbeing.

The effort is organised through a community helpline that allows those in need to seek assistance, as Professor Belch explained.

“Normally the Community Council deals with planning applications and red tape, but we set this up because we were getting calls from folk offering to help but who didn’t know how to tell others they were available,” she said.

“Scone is not big, but we are a strong community and will be there for those within it who need our help. We have had almost 150 responses from a village of only 2,500 households – that’s a large proportion of households willing to help.

Professor Jill Belch Image Supplied

“I have organised us into shoppers and message runners, alongside running a 9-5pm helpline.

“The chemist was overrun with delivery requests and couldn’t manage dispensing. There was a clear need for helpers. Within 12 hours we had 30 PVG-registered individuals offering to help.

“We leave the goods at the door for self-isolators to pick up safely. Two local chefs are offering to provide meals if meals on wheels can’t cope and people are going to FaceTime folk who live alone twice a week to make sure they are OK.

“As schools close, we will offer to babysit for NHS staff who have to work and we will respond to any non-viral emergency such as falls, etc, for folk who live alone.

“The response has been quite humbling and some people are helping in unusual ways we never imagined. We have been stunned by the response and I am very proud to live in a community who are putting themselves at risk to help others.”

Jill Belch became Professor of Vascular Medicine at the University in 1995. She is a renowned cardiovascular researcher and has developed effective treatments for vascular disease while establishing Dundee as a leading research centre in the field. Professor Belch is a founder Fellow of the Academy of Medical Science and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

 
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