By Nadeem Badshah
PLACES of worship are leading the effort across the UK to look after the elderly and vulnerable people who are self-isolating.
Mosques, temples and gurdwaras have been forced to stop prayer congregations in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
But hundreds are volunteering at their local places of worship in order to support their communities, with young people praised for their leadership in efforts such as posting postcards with volunteers’ details offering help and free deliveries of groceries.
People aged over 70 have been advised to self-isolate while the overall population should socially distance themselves for “at least most of a year”, according to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
Mohamed Omer, a government adviser on Muslim issues, told Eastern Eye: “I have been informed that some mosques are setting up volunteers to help the elderly, but they need to make sure they are safe as well.
“The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has also launched a volunteer programme for the elderly communities.”
The programmes include Green Lane Masjid in Birmingham, Khizra Masjid in Manchester and Islamic places of worship in Lancashire providing a delivery service of medicines and supplies.
The Lammack Prayer Room in Blackburn, Lancashire, is also helping with shopping drop-offs, practical support and collecting prescriptions for those self-isolating.
Majid Freeman, a charity fund-raiser, has welcomed a Peace Centre food bank being run from a mosque in Leicester.
Speaking prior to the prime minister’s lockdown announcement on Monday (23), Freeman said: “We can’t wait for the government to put measures into place. A lot of elderly are extremely worried. Not only them but even the average Joe, hence panic buying in the supermarkets. We need to be proactive in serving our communities.”
Meanwhile, the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall in west London has joined forces with the Sikh Welfare Awareness Team Youth to set up an outreach team, while the Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara in Slough, Berkshire, is providing a free mobile food service to the elderly in the area.
Harmander Singh, spokesman for the Sikhs in England think-tank, said gurdwaras across the UK were prioritising helping those who were self-isolating.
He told Eastern Eye: “If an elderly person is at home alone and their relatives can’t help, they [volunteers] make sure they deliver food in coordination with relatives who ring them [those in self isolation] first so they are reassured it’s not a scam.
“All of the faith community volunteers are doing it out of their own pocket.
“Young people have an opportunity to shine and take the initiative. We urge the elderly ‘committee-wallahs’ – we need their wisdom but [they should] stay at home.
“The leadership has had its eyes opened to what I have been saying for years – they know what happens in their country of origin, but are lackadaisical about what happens in their local area.
“But the young people have stepped up, which is commendable. They should be brought on board by the elders.”
The Sikh Council UK has advised worshippers in gurdwaras to sit at least one metre apart and the langar kitchen to remain open, but in “a minimised, simple form”. It has also advised visitors to bring a scarf to cover their mouth and wash their hands when entering the premises.
Meanwhile, the Neasden temple in London has held the aarti ritual via video link in the evenings to address the isolation felt by worshippers at home.
Rajnish Kashyap, general secretary of Hindu Council UK, said: “A large number of temple [committees] have taken the decision to social distance themselves and close to the public. Priests are doing the daily pooja and aarti for all behind closed doors.
“Temple management is also making sure that elder devotees are being looked after. It is very important to reach out to older people, therefore, the temple is making sure if any help is required, they [devotees] can contact the mandir by telephone.
“I am also aware that the large temples are ensuring they send daily updates to all devotees via messages, email as well as post the live aarti online.
“Social media is the tool which connects us together and it will play a very significant role in the next few weeks.”