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Sassie by the pier gates

Sassie, one of over 1,000 volunteers for HEART giving hope.

Hands up for HEART!

We all came to expect the unexpected last year. From discovering the reemergence of birdsong to the less savoury COVID impacts many of us have had to face. It can certainly be called a ‘strange time’. Rowland Jobson was an early victim of Covid-19 and wanted to share his experience – and his appreciation of his Hastings Emergency Action Resilience Team (HEART) volunteer.

Early in 2020 I heard trickles of information from a friend in Shanghai about the coming virus and wondered how the pandemic would hit the UK. Perhaps it might even hit me. Hastings seemed so far from Shanghai, but I knew it might come. Little did I expect to experience what I have – and to rediscover the warmth and wonder in our community.

After a tough few years I had become rather cynical, to say the least, about human nature. I thought it would take something unexpected and pretty significant to restore some of my faith in mankind.

Covid hit me in early March. I was sick for over eight weeks with symptoms coming and going. How bad could things get, I wondered? I couldn’t get help from the NHS or my doctor as I was not quite at death’s door, but I was seriously sick, and at one point, like many people imagined, I thought I might not last the night as I hung on the line to 111. I already had a bad back so I put some of the body pains in my back down to it. However as my health slowly improved I woke up one morning in extreme pain to find I could not walk. A disc in my spine had inexplicably burst in the night.

After an ambulance trip to A&E and a stay in hospital, I wondered how I was going to look after my daughter and feed myself. It was almost impossible to get an online shop and my cupboards were very bare. As a fairly new arrival in Hastings I only had a few friends, so I called social services and the council for help. Alas, I had no luck anywhere. I was feeling isolated, alone and very worried how I was going to survive.

Support group

Thankfully I remembered Hastings Emergency Action Resilience Team (HEART), whom I volunteered to help at the start of the crisis. They had set up a support group to help Covid victims and those self-isolating. I called and emailed – imagining they would be busy and take some time to get back. Minutes later I received a return call. What a relief it was just to hear a friendly voice. A kind, thoughtful, warm, practical, human voice. A voice that wanted to help me.

My personality urges me to help others more than receive help, so it was hard to accept that someone might want to help me. The voice asked me what my situation was and what I needed. My most urgent need was for food and medication so I asked if they might help there. I was told ‘Sassie’ would be in contact to help bring me some food and to pick up my much needed prescriptions within the hour. I was stunned.

Despite the sense of stoic, self mocking, ironic humour I had developed over the last few weeks, accepting my fate as a non-walking, not feeling much below the waist ever again person, the kindness of this stranger offering to help me burst my bubble. I put down the phone and cried. I shocked myself, had I really been feeling that isolated and lost?

Sassie called as promised, and I eagerly gave her my food and prescription request. Another wave of relief passed through me. However I had not considered heaving the heavy shopping from the door. I was now managing to drag my self around the house and found a stick to stand a bit with. I waited like a child for Christmas, the door bell rang, and there was Sassie with her beaming smile and several thoughtfully weighted and bagged bags of shopping. The first time light had entered through my front door in months. A shinning happy smile, a happy hello, a few distanced words that meant so much. They meant more than the food which with was extremely welcome indeed, adding a sense of hope and of being connected with the outside world again.

Sassie’s weekly deliveries became something to look forward to, to hold onto, though I did not really get a chance to know Sassie during this time as we kept to social distancing rules and our exchanges were short. But I did get a real sense of who Sassie is from her warmth, her ever generous smile and shining happy-to-help eyes. As time has moved on we have stayed in contact and I have since found out I was the only person Sassie helped. I presumed she was bouncing about Hastings helping many people for HEART.

Ever thankful

I feel privileged and ever thankful for her help as it triggered in me a hope that grew and enabled me to push myself to get better. This good spirit I get is in Sassie’s nature and how the good natured in our community have shone in this time. There have been over 1,000 local volunteers helping HEART. When you think of the size of Hastings that’s a lot of community spirited people. What a wonderful thing Kim Batty and Alastair Fairley at the Hastings Emergency Action Response Team have done – 1,000 people volunteering to help people with food shopping, collecting medicines, transport and even dog walking.

Sassie and her apple juice

Sassie with her Eve Apple Press juice

Sassie, like me, is a DFL (Down from Londoner). A jokey tag that sometimes makes you feel a bit of an outsider, but I get none of that is a barrier for her. Since moving down from south London seven years ago with her partner, she has become an enthusiastic part of the community. From racing around orchards pressing apples for people and collecting unwanted apples to make her gorgeous homemade apple juice, to helping people like me. She now runs a start-up juicing company called Eve Apple Press and has started selling her juice to local Hastings and St Leonards shops. I can testify that it is absolutely superb.

Putting something back into the community that has welcomed her is part of Sassie’s ethos and she feels, as I do, that there has been a growing sense of community cohesion in this time. People have supported each other, come closer, made new friends, and many have shopped more locally to support our local shops.

It’s inspiring to meet people like Sassie. People who make something out of nothing, who like helping people just because it makes them feel good. I remember being able to do that and loving it. So despite my loss of work, permanent numbness, pain, and less mobility, I have gained something more important, no, not important, essential. A new sense of hope, a greater sense of faith in people, especially the people in our community.

I feel despite all that has passed in lockdown, and perhaps whatever is to come, we as a community can come together, help each other. Perhaps even celebrate the end of this episode one day, in the wonderful creative way people do in Hastings, and perhaps that, whatever happens, someone is there to catch us when we fall in this great town we love by the sea.

If you need support from HEART, or would like to volunteer and help others, you can visit the HEART Facebook page or the HEART website, or call 01424 451019 or email info@hastingsheart.com.

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Posted 14:42 Thursday, Jan 14, 2021 In: Hastings People

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