More than 60 partners and personnel from RAF Akrotiri have been providing vital support to military sections across the Station during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team from the community have been assisting in reception at the medical centre, serving food to personnel at the central feeder and managing handwashing facilities outside the Forces Store supermarket. They’ve also been providing shopping deliveries for those in isolation.

The concept of Akrotiri Volunteer Army (AVA) began in late March with Sue Smith and some friends.

Sue Smith

“A friend of mine, Julie Helmsley, created a Facebook page called ‘Aki Friends COVID Isolation Support Network’ and asked me to moderate it, explains Sue. “It started off as a friends’ group; she added her friends and I added mine. In turn, everyone added theirs and there are now 600 local members on it.

“I decided it would be nice to do some home-baking for those that were isolated as most had just arrived and possibly didn’t know anyone they could ask for help.”

The group quickly expanded and soon they were delivering home-bakes to over 36 houses.

“What started off as a few good people with a ‘be kind’ attitude, became a mass movement of community spirit, generosity and camaraderie. This has been developed into the Akrotiri Volunteer Army, a sustainable support aiding military output,” says Sue.

Food for all
One of the AVA’s most significant contributions was their assistance at the newly formed central feeder. The feeder was set up to continue providing three meals a day to single personnel as well as those who are posted there on operations.

Sergeant Simon Ingledew, who is part of the team that runs the feeder, says: “The volunteers have been a great help, providing extra manpower during the busy service times. This has allowed us to carry out the more routine tasks. Their assistance has been well received by all and they’ve been a pleasure to work with.”

Emma Ford, an ex-RAF Flight Operations Squadron Leader, is one of the volunteers: “I have shopped for people in isolation, and manned the Med Centre door a couple of times,” she explains, “but mainly I have been helping out at the feeder. The people I have worked with have been great, the military staff have taken us all in as part of their team, and have been wonderfully supportive and great fun whilst we settled into our new ‘dinner lady’ roles – and we do have a couple of ‘dinner guys’ too!”

“Everyone seemed really pleased to see us and we made sure nobody has gone short on chips – and we’ve ‘mum nagged’ a few of the younger ones to eat more veg!”

Making a difference
By helping out, military personnel serving at RAF Akrotiri have been able to maintain their capacity enabling them to continue their focus on the operational capabilities of the Station.

“Knowing we’re helping lighten the load of personnel has been brilliant and is exactly what we all hoped to do,” says Emma. “I have been in awe of the effort and time they have put into setting up all of the systems to keep us all safe. It seemed right to put back in and support them too.”

For some in the community, AVA has been able to help some unsuspecting members of the family. Katrina Bryan’s dog fell extremely ill while the family was undergoing a 14-day self-isolation period.

Thanks to the help of a member of the Station’s Dog Section, they were able to stay safely isolated while their dog was taken to the local veterinary surgery for lifesaving treatment.

She says: “It was just such a relief to have this kind help when we so desperately needed it. I can’t explain how emotionally upsetting the day was trying to find someone to take our dog to the vet but we are so grateful to the gentleman who did, as it’s likely our dog would have died if nobody had come forward.”

Katrina’s family were also among many who were unable to leave self-isolation to get essential supplies from the supermarket.

“Being in isolation for the second time in five weeks was particularly hard but having AVA’s shopping service made life so much easier.”

Giving back to the community
Volunteering was not just a chance to help others, it also provided an opportunity to give back to the community during a difficult time. Clara Wallace welcomed the distraction of being able to help as her husband is away for six months.

“My husband is currently deployed in the Falklands – he left in January and I’m home alone with my 11-year-old. Helping others is a little distraction from my ‘mum duties’. It also enables me to engage in some adult communication and gives me purpose and focus during lockdown, filling the gaps where I would normally be at work, keeping myself busy and my mind healthy,” says Clara.

“People I’ve helped have been so grateful. It’s amazing how being a little ‘shopping fairy’ can bring happiness. This lockdown has definitely proven that it’s the little things in life that matter.”

As the Sovereign Base Areas and the Republic of Cyprus now look to begin lifting restrictions and transitioning slowly back into normality, the work of AVA’s volunteers has been a huge boost to the Akrotiri community and a direct contribution to the efforts to fight and defeat COVID-19.

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