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Anti-loo roll brigade: Taking on the panic buyers during lockdown

When Peter Dutch heard the news reports that people were panic buying and hoarding essentials during the first COVID lockdown in March 2020, he vowed to do something about it in his local community.

Peter Dutch (right), founder of ALB

His knee-jerk reaction was to set up a Facebook page: The Anti-Loo Roll Brigade with the aim of doing the complete opposite of the hoarders, and ensure everyone in the community was alright, had enough essential supplies and got through it.

Since then, however, the Anti- Loo Roll Brigade has gone on to provide an essential lifeline for many vulnerable people in the community during COVID and since both lockdowns.

“During the lockdown, we ensured that older and vulnerable people were ok and had the essentials they needed, we made curries for NHS staff, we sourced face masks for people in care homes when it was difficult to get any PPE, we have helped victims of domestic violence flee their abusive perpetrators re-homing them and providing furniture. One family’s house was burned down and we managed to rebuild a large part of it ourselves as, during COVID, everyone had a lot of time on their hands,” explained Peter.

Since COVID, the group has continued the good work renovating a garden for disabled children, providing therapy for a survivor of domestic abuse who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and supported autistic children and families in the community.

That doesn’t include the seven articulated lorries of essentials that were safely delivered to Ukraine at the start of the war.

Irony

“The name, was a bit tongue in cheek, but to be honest it was an accidental stroke of marketing genius! Had we been called something like ‘The COVID Support Agency’ or something we would never have engaged with as many people as we have. It’s a real conversation starter,” said Peter.

“The irony is not lost on me that this has come from a knee jerk reaction from a cheeky chappie scaffolder,” he added.

Peter initially thought the ‘brigade’ would be him and a group of mates doing some shopping for vulnerable members of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. But within a matter of weeks, the Facebook page had 4,500 members. As a result of the growing membership, Peter was aware of any emerging issues that were coming to light.

“People were petrified about their family members working in care homes when it was difficult to get PPE. I spoke to every care home in the area, worked out exactly what each home needed in terms of face masks, and sourced them for the care homes,” said Peter.

When families were home-schooling their children, Peter helped to ensure children had access to laptops to help their education.

A crime

He threw himself into the endeavour so much so that by the time most people were returning to work, he felt he couldn’t just abandon the project. “It would have been a crime not to utilise it to its maximum potential. I said to my wife, let’s give it a couple more months, it’ll be alright.”

Those ‘couple of months’ ended up being six months and having accidentally exposed an area where there was so little support, Peter felt torn over returning to his job as a scaffolder. He did not want to abandon the group, but also had a family to feed himself.

“By this time we were working closely with social services, domestic abuse projects, the council, police, the NHS – we couldn’t just walk away,” explained Peter. As a result, they turned the project into a Community Interest Company where all profits go to the community.

“Our remit was much wider than a charity would have and as a charity we would be pigeon-holed. I became the CEO and we have a committee of experienced people including a domestic abuse team leader, an experienced business woman, a builder,” said Peter.

Referrals were coming in from all angles and people were posting requests on the page as well as offering help/solutions. The general public donate to the page and local companies and the community all help too.

The Anti-Loo Roll Brigade remit continues to grow with the project renovating a garden for disabled children, funding a fuel poverty scheme, providing therapy for local children and when domestic abuse survivors flee abuse, Peter and his crew will go and fit security systems to their new properties and help furnish their new empty flats.

It emerged on the forum that many parts of the community wanted to help families and orphaned children in Ukraine. “People wanted to do their bit to help,” explained Peter.

But with around £10,000 worth of supplies, it was essential that the goods got to where they were meant to be going. Peter used his platform to get to speak to the right people and found lorries that were coming over here and going back to the Ukraine empty to help them deliver goods back at a minimal cost.

Embassy

One week after the invasion of Ukraine, the brigade delivered their first load into the heart of Ukraine. Over the next few weeks donations came flooding in and seven articulated lorries delivered goods, all the while adjusting what they were collecting as to what was needed ensuring that they were only sending what was needed and not adding to the chaos or creating unused clothes mountain's which got sent all over Ukraine.

It emerged that army supplies were needed and the brigade arranged for several lorries containing military equipment such as bullet proof vests to be sent through the Ukrainian Embassy.

Peter and a friend heard through contacts that around 150 orphans coming out of Ukraine and into safe houses near Lodz in Poland had nothing and the brigade linked up with the charity involved and two vans and four people drove out to deliver lots of specially chosen items to specifically meet their needs.

Further, it came to Peter’s attention that attention that some hospitals in Ukraine had run out of a lot of drugs, some of which were basic and some life-saving. Following the work the Anti-Loo Roll Brigade had carried out during COVID sourcing PPE and face masks, they had a few contacts who had partners with pharmaceutical wholesale companies in Eastern Europe that the brigade knew and trusted and who held the relevant licences. With the order going to a hospital met all the requirements bypassing all the red tape and bureaucracy involved and fully above board.

“We sent their stock list to the doctors at the Ukranian hospital and asked them to fill out what they were in direst need of urgently. This was then sent back to the wholesalers and we paid so that the next day a huge order was delivered to the Ukranian border and then straight to the hospital in hours. We received photos of full medicine cabinets and drugs in patients’ arms,” said Peter. “Buying in bulk and at mates rates plus a transport cost of zero pound for pound this was fantastic.”

Scouting for Girls

The brigade has also worked specifically with autistic children in the Ukraine to provide them with fidget toys, sensory toys and autism passports printed in Russian/Ukrainian explaining about that person’s condition.

The hub which was used to collect donations was then transformed into a welcome hub for families arriving in Colchester from the Ukraine where they could access toys, clothes, laptops, bikes – anything they needed given many had left their country with nothing.

Peter works with many agencies and volunteers to ensure the operation runs smoothly. The Facebook page now has 17.5K members and the Anti-Loo Roll Brigade has helped thousands, if not tens of thousands of people. The project also runs a festival, which had ‘Scouting for Girls’ as the headline act in 2021, to raise funds for the Anti-Loo Roll Brigade as well as raising awareness of the cause.

“We ensured there was a special area with ear protectors and defenders for children with autism meaning they could attend a festival for the first time,” said Peter.

“My next big plan – when I get five minutes – is to open up a respite play area for children with autism with signposting for relevant support services, education and an area where families can come together over the summer months, although ideally I’d like to find a permanent venue to make this a long-standing project,” concluded Peter.

Anti-Loo Roll Brigade Facebook Page

Website

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