Free supermarket for staff during the time of need

30th November 2020

RFC Rec club volunteers deliveries 0105

Submitted by Louise Bellass, Free @ The Free The Royal Free Charity

On 3rd April, as the Covid-19 pandemic was reaching its peak, the Royal Free Charity launched ‘Free@theFree’, an initiative which saw the Rec Club (the Royal Free Charity gym, on the Royal Free London hospital site) temporarily turned into a free staff supermarket and respite area. It was immediately clear that in order to manage the large numbers of donations, deliveries and visitors to the supermarket we would need a team of volunteers on hand from early morning until late evening to assist with the smooth running of the project. Free@theFree received an overwhelming amount of support from the local community and thousands of pounds worth of goods were donated by local businesses and people who were keen to help their hospital and support NHS staff.

A team of 25 volunteers was recruited from our existing pool and were on hand to receive deliveries of everything from toothpaste and hygiene products to essential groceries such as milk, bread and fruit. They worked together to sort and lay out the goods onto tables organised into aisles, keeping back some deliveries to ensure that tables were always as fully stocked as possible throughout the day. As staff arrived to collect their free goods they were welcomed by volunteers and were supervised during their visit to ensure that social distancing was in place and that they could find everything they needed easily. Staff who were having to self-isolate at this time were not excluded, as we had a number of volunteer drivers on hand to deliver wellbeing packages to keep them going until they could safely leave home again. Prepared meals donated to Free@theFree were delivered directly to staff working on high risk wards who were unable to leave to visit the supermarket.

Respite area Rec Club
Easter donations Rec Club

During the final few weeks of Free@theFree, staff visiting were asked if they would like to donate one of their six free items to the Camden foodbank. Thanks to the generosity of these staff and to those who donated the goods, 28 crates of supplies per week were then delivered to Camden food bank, further extending this project’s links with the local community. Alongside the free supermarket, quiet spaces were set up to give staff some much needed respite from the wards. Again the local community came together to show their support by providing colourful drawings and messages of support to line the walls and give much needed encouragement and a morale boost to tired staff. Volunteers were able to assist by making hot drinks and chatting to staff who wanted to talk.

Free@theFree was a hugely successful initiative and was made possible due to collaboration and teamwork from the Royal Free Charity, staff from the Royal Free London Foundation Trust, volunteers and the local community. It is a great example of how people come together in a time of crisis to help where they can. At what was a scary time, when the public were being advised to stay at home, it was heartening to see that our volunteers were still willing to come and do what they could to support the Royal Free London Foundation Trust.

Over the eight weeks that Free@theFree was open, it was visited 48,062 times by Trust staff, who had access to 288,372 donated items. Over 400 staff visited on the first morning of opening alone! 120 prepared meals were delivered per day to staff that were unable to leave their high risk wards and 480 prepared meals per day were delivered to staff at Barnet Hospital and other satellite sites of the Royal Free London Foundation Trust. The dedicated staff and volunteers involved in the running of Free@theFree took deliveries and covered shifts from 6:30 am until 10:00 pm, Monday to Sunday and including Easter weekend and bank holidays.The feedback from staff was overwhelmingly positive and beneficiaries agreed that the supplies made such a difference to them, they were incredibly grateful for the practical support at a time when it was needed most. One said: “It feels like we are being looked after with the essential things.Today it means I’ve got food for soup – so I go straight home and I don’t have to queue at the supermarket.” Another said: “It makes me feel very special. We can’t tell you how much we appreciate it. It feels like we are being supported by the community.”

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