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I need a hero: Our real life superheroes working on the frontline

By Heather Large | Features | Published:

From the emergency services and doctors and nurses on the NHS frontline to carers, shop workers, teachers, waste collectors and delivery drivers - key workers have become the nation's heroes.

Donation at Heartlands Hospital

Whether they are caring for sick patients, helping to keep essential services going or ensuring we are all fed, they are all playing a crucial role during this unprecedented time.

To help celebrate their tireless efforts author and illustrator Toni Sian Williams has created a new children's book, which will also raise money for the NHS.

The story, called Who Can Be A Superhero?, depicts key workers through the eyes of a child and sees parents, aunties, uncles and grandparents going about their daily work as usual, not as normal people do, but as superheroes.

It has a different rhyme on every page which complements each key worker’s superpower, covering job roles such as NHS staff, ambulance drivers, police officers, delivery workers and more.

"I was inspired by their commitment to their jobs and how they are putting their lives on the line,” says Toni, who is also author of The Ironbridge Ogre.

"I wanted to celebrate them as well as the key workers that aren't so well known like the civil servants and the bin men. At the same time I knew there must be so many young children who are confused that their parents or family members are still going to work when there are germs about but they can't go to school.

"It's a light-hearted and fun book. It's a 'thank you' to key workers but it's also to help children ask questions about the different job roles," explains the 32-year-old.

It took Toni,who lives in Coalport, Telford, just three weeks to complete the book. "Once I started it I couldn't stop," she tells Weekend.

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"The first thing I did was write the story, I went through four or five versions before I got it how I wanted. A friend edited for me and when I was happy with the story and what was on each page, I started the illustrations and spent two works drawing the key workers as superheroes.

"For my other books that I've illustrated, The Ironbridge Ogre and The Wrekin Giant, I've made clay models of the characters first but I wanted to get this book out while I had the time to do it and that would have taken months.

"I'm pleased with how the characters and the book has turned out. The response has been brilliant. The book is doing really well in the Amazon rankings and I've had a lot of support from friends and family," says Toni.

To help promote the book, Toni, created a video by asking parents to film their children reading extracts from the book.

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"I thought it would be good to get children reading the book as it's for them. I hope that in 10 or 20 years time, parents and children might find this book at the back of the closest and remember lockdown with a happy memory of story-time. Hopefully this will make them smile," says Toni.

She loves to inspire young children to get involved with story writing and illustrating and holds regular author visits and workshops to schools, nurseries and libraries.

Toni hopes to be able to resume these once lockdown restrictions are fully lifted but is looking into offering free assemblies to the schools that have remained open for the children of keyworkers in the meantime.

"I love going into schools. The children are always amazed when I say I'm author and it's great to be able to say to them that they could be an author too if they wanted to be," she says.

Who Can Be A Superhero? is available in paperback or as an ebook from Amazon and Toni will be donating 50 per cent of the proceeds of the book to the NHS.

For more information see https://tonisianwilliams.co.uk/

Shop workers

Gemma Brayne

Food stores and supermarkets have remained open to enable people to buy essentials such as groceries and toiletries.

From keeping the shelves full to serving customers at the tills, store workers have been vital in ensuring we can all get what we need.

Gemma Brayne, is the store manager at Central England Co-op in First Avenue, Stafford where she leads a team of 25 colleagues including the Post Office staff.

The store was quick to introduce social distancing measures to ensure people could shop safely and also recruited additional temporary staff.

"When lockdown started I had to fly home from my holiday and I came back to work early to support the team and the community.

"It's been great to provide employment for a number of people who have lost their job due to the outbreak. The team quickly and efficiently set up the social distancing markers in store and set up a sanitising station at the front of the store. We have since had screens erected at the tills/post office and we have been provided with plenty of PPE," explains Gemma, who lives in Armitage near Rugeley.

The 34-year-old says it's her team of "fantastic" colleagues that make the job so enjoyable and they've all been working together through this unprecedented time.

"I am so proud at the level of service and dedication. To support the store when we have had to cover absent colleagues, the temporary colleagues were worth their weight in gold and have been amazing; literally just jumped in to their roles with amazing work attitudes and excellent customer service skills.

"The permanent staff members were great mentors and showed how to work in a productive and customer focused manner. These were extremely strange times where colleagues and customers were having to learn how to work and shop in a completely different way; I certainly feel that as a team we were successful in creating a safe environment for people to shop with us."

The store has also been playing its part in supporting the local community in Stafford.

"We have donated £100 towards hampers for the NHS. Colleagues have been shopping for our vulnerable customers that are unable to leave the house, sometimes we deliver their shopping on foot, we take some telephone orders from some customers and deliver the shopping to their cars outside.

We basically do anything that we can to make things easy and safe for our wonderful customers," explains Gemma, who has worked for Central England Co-op for 11 years.

She says the team has had a "great response" from shoppers to the changes they've had to make to keep everyone safe.

"They understand why we are doing what we are doing in store and they have adapted to the changes really easily. They have commented that they feel safe to shop with us and our customer service is excellent which is wonderful to hear and testament to my team," says Gemma.

"I am very proud to be a keyworker and to deliver excellent service to our community at this uncertain time," she adds.

Teachers

School principal Craig Cooling

Teachers have been going above and beyond to support their students throughout the coronavirus outbreak.

It's been almost two months since schools across the country closed their doors to most pupils.

But staff have continued to be on site to teach children of key workers while helping their other students adjust to learning at home.

Craig Cooling is principal in Ormiston NEW Academy in Wolverhampton and along with his dedicated team has been on hand to ensure everyone has the support they need at this unprecedented time.

"It's been a massive change for us but it's a change we have tried to deal with head on and as positive as we can because our young people and their families are going through some difficult things," he tells Weekend.

The school has remained open for those children in Year 7 to 10 who need to attend including those whose parents are key workers such as NHS staff.

Staff have been going in to teach on a rota basis and have been providing a varied timetable for pupils.

Students at home have been set lessons virtually and staff have been marking work and giving feedback by video.

"There have been lots of phone calls to families and children. I've been calling pupils and every form tutor has been calling every pupil in their form.

"We came into education because we like working with children - and we miss them.

"Not only do we miss them but we feel for them too. Young people at the best of times can feel disorientated. We are trying to offer solace and support," says Craig, who took up the reins as principal in September.

They have also continued to support the local community to ensure families aren't left struggling. "We support quite a vulnerable community and we deliver over 100 food parcels to families with multiple children on Mondays and Tuesdays," says Craig.

Teachers have been doing all their can to keep pupils' spirits up and this has included delivering chocolate prizes to those who have performed well.

The school has also tried to ensure the students that are staying at home and those going into the classroom every day still feel connected with school life and their fellow classmates.

A House Masterchef competition gave pupils the two weeks to master cooking up a delicious dish and submit a photo of their creation for judging.

"It's about trying to be positive and keeping people engaged and happy," says Craig.

Postal workers

Post office

They've been playing their part in keeping the country connected.

A Post Office based in The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital (RJAH), Shropshire, is run by a League of Friends.

It could not be more in tune with the hospital and wider community, so as you would expect in a time of crisis, the League of Friends Post Office has continued with its service during lockdown and has stepped forward to lend support.

Victoria Sugden, League of Friends to RJAH director, told Weekend: "We are always looking for ways in which we can support staff and patients but the speed in which the coronavirus crisis has come along has taken us by surprise.

"Having a Post Office and hospital shop has proved absolutely essential at this current time. We have really had to change our mind-sets and think about how we do business completely differently.

"First off we are working with local companies to provide our NHS staff with basic essentials like fruit, vegetables, meat and tinned items in a grocery box.

"They have the opportunity to order from our shop, and the goods are packed by our Post Office and shop staff ready for collection at a time to suit NHS workers.

"We hope this means we are not only helping staff out but also the community as it will reduce the number of NHS staff needing to visit supermarkets.

Safety has of course been paramount, and Victoria told us how appropriate measures at the hospital Post Office have been ensured.

"As the Post Office is in a hospital we were able to work with the fantastic facilities team here to put in place safety measures such as contactless payments, and social distance markings on the floor," she said. "Everything has been done quickly and efficiently, it is impressive."

Post Office manager Helen Wheatley said: "The Post Office is still quite busy, posting mail, and with cash and banking services.

"Posting cards and little gifts to raise everyone's spirits is very popular. Staff in the hospital are really glad we are here, for example Pharmacy are still able to send patients' medicines out.

"A lot of staff have come in for stamp books so their children can keep sending letters to family and people on their own – very heart-warming!"

During lockdown, the orthopaedic hospital has received numerous donations to help staff, and Victoria told us how she and her team have helped put these to good use.

"We have been lucky – local supermarkets have supported us with donations of goods to keep staff going so we have instigated a refillable ‘Grab and Go’ snack box for all areas of the hospital – to keep everyone fuelled," she said. "They have become affectionately known as ‘Hero Hampers’ as NHS staff are most definitely heroes to us!"

Nurses

Donation at Birmingham Children's Hospital

Three years ago Becky Shuck was working as a beauty therapist - now she's a student nurse working on the NHS frontline in the fight against Covid-19.

It was when she witnessed the care of nurses first-hand, that the penny dropped and she knew this was the career for her.

Now the student is one of the University of Worcester’s 200 student nurses who are caring for hospital parents.

Becky, who lives near Rubery, in Worcestershire, has this week started a six-month paid placement on an acute medical ward, at the Alexandra Hospital, in Redditch, but said she would have volunteered even if it had been unpaid.

“The reason I came into nursing was I wanted to make a difference,” says Becky, a former pupil at St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School, in Kings Norton. “I have been itching to get out there and provide care for people; that’s the most important thing for me. I’m scared and anxious, but I’m glad I can do something to help in this pandemic.

“As a student, we’re not going to come across anything like this again. It’s a really good learning opportunity that will help with my skills as a nurse as well as helping out in our communities with ill patients,” she adds.

The 27-year-old third year adult nursing student has until now been working as a healthcare assistant at the Alexandra Hospital.

This role means more responsibility and Becky, who hopes to eventually nurse people with cancer or work in palliative care, says she feels well prepared.

“At the moment my patients aren’t allowed any visitors which is quite sad and hard. For me it’s talking and making sure that they know that people are there for them, and even though we’re not their family members, that we care," adds Becky.

She has been moved by the public response to the work of the NHS and the sacrifices being made by staff. “A lot of friends and family on social media pages have messaged me saying thank you and a few people I know personally have made me things like a wash bag and headbands so the masks don’t dig into my ears, so that’s been nice as I had not expected anything,”says Becky.

“To hear people clapping and hitting their pots and pans is really nice. The first time it happened I literally nearly cried, I felt so emotional. I felt like finally we’re getting the recognition we deserve. Last week I was on a night shift and there were ambulances outside the Alex and everyone was clapping while I was on the ward. I didn’t go out, but I heard it. It’s really nice that the nation is getting behind the NHS,” she adds.

Becky left school at 16 and became a beauty therapist. However, that all changed at 24, when a family member ended up in hospital long-term “I visited every day and saw some really good nursing care and things I thought could be changed as an outsider looking in. I wanted to be part of that," she explains.

She chose Worcester after an Open Day visit, despite the distance it would mean travelling for her studies. “The tutors were so friendly and I felt it was my home. As an older learner I felt that they would be able to support my academic needs. Without the support of the University and tutors I wouldn’t have got through these other two years.”

Delivery drivers

12 MAY 2020. AMAZON (DXB1), PATENT DRIVE, WEDNESBURY. WS10 7XD Amazon's Asscoiate Andrius Ciuksys (ciuksya). PHOTOGRAPH BY RICHARD GRANGE / UNP (United National Photographers).

Online shopping has boomed in Britain since the country entered lockdown as people turned to the internet for their groceries, household essentials and luxury items.

This has kept the nation's delivery drivers busy as they work to drop off our parcels using new contactless methods.

Amazon is one of the companies that has enabled people to stay safe at home while receiving the products they need. In order to do this and to protect the health of its employees and customers, the company has had to make significant changes to its operation.

Employees at its huge Rugeley fulfilment centre have seen changes to the way they operate, from prioritising essential products over less critical goods, through to the many new safety provisions put in place to protect the health of team members.

Drivers for delivery companies are seeing changes to their interactions with Amazon customers.

“We see so little of customers now,” says driver Andrius Ciuksys who covers various routes for FSRL (Fast Safe Reliable Logistics) across the West Midlands. “We’ll leave deliveries on doorsteps and ensure people collect them but can’t leave deliveries with neighbours – it’s a lot different. But most people are very grateful, which makes a big difference.”

At Amazon’s Wednesbury delivery station, the same covid-19 measures are in place that can be found in Amazon buildings globally. Personal protective gear such as masks for employees are distributed, there is disinfectant spraying and temperature checks, increased frequency and intensity of cleaning, the provision of hand sanitisers and changes to work patterns to enable social distancing.

At the start and end of routes, drivers must use disinfectant wipes to clean all frequently touched surfaces in their vehicles and other work equipment including things like keys, steering wheel, buttons and delivery devices. All this is in addition to the social distancing measures with regard to customers.

Amazon is also helping to ensure that thousands of families in lockdown to receive free healthy breakfasts.

Thanks to an expanded partnership between Magic Breakfast, three quarters of a million parcels of healthy breakfast food are set for delivery around the UK.

The children receiving these meals can normally have a free breakfast at school, provided by Magic Breakfast, to give them the fuel they need for their morning lessons. Since schools closed due to Covid-19, the charity, with help from Amazon, has adapted its delivery model to ensure children from its partner schools can continue to enjoy their Magic Breakfasts at home across the West Midlands.

Volunteers

Toni Sian Williams

There has been an outpouring of love and support for key workers across the region for the heroic work they are doing, day in day out.

Among those who have been showing their appreciation are friends Victoria Hanson and Yasmin Paulson, who have distributed 300 hampers to frontline health staff across the West Midlands.

Key workers in hospitals and care homes, as well as health workers who are self-isolating, have been surprised with ‘thank-you packages’ containing items such as biscuits, crisps, chocolate, tea coffee, snack pot meals and much-needed hand creams. The hampers have been delivered to sites including New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton, Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley, Acorn's Children's Hospice in Walsall, Birmingham Children's Hospital, West Midlands Ambulance Service by a group of 40 community volunteers who have joined the good cause.

To date, Hampers for Heroes, which was set up four weeks ago, has raised nearly £3,000 via its Gofundme page, of which 100 per cent goes towards running the good cause and purchasing items for the hampers. Food and luxury care products have also been donated by individuals.

Co-founder, Victoria, who lives in Solihull, said: “Every day, frontline workers put their own health and safety at risk to help those who are sick, or need help or care.

"When Yasmin and I started four weeks ago, we wanted to do something to help. We had no idea that the demand would be so great and that we would grow so fast in such a small amount of time.

“Our community of volunteers are determined to deliver the hampers and because the donations are coming in, we can keep going and put smiles on the faces of our hardworking key workers.

"Our aim is to raise as much money as we can so that we can reach as many heroes as we possibly can, so that they all know we appreciate the difference they are making.”

Dr Shakti Agrawal, a consultant paediatric neurologist at Birmingham Women's and Children's Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, was among the first recipients of a Hampers for Heroes care package.

“Love and kindness are never wasted – they always make a difference. These hampers truly make our day and we are so grateful to everyone at Hampers for Heroes giving up their time for us. Please keep up the amazing work," he said.

To donate go to www.gofundme.com/f/hampers-for-heroes

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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