Back in March this year, as COVID-19 came to our shores, we were just deciding when we should send our next consignment of humanitarian aid to Belarus.
Likely we would have sent our donations around May or June had the world not ground to a halt, but as the pandemic moved in, so everything stopped. The volunteers went into isolation, the donations stopped coming and the doors to the building where we had been packing and sorting closed, and are still yet to reopen.
When the lockdown ended, things started to pick up, and we moved our packing and sorting operations to our warehouse in north London, a disused building with no utilities. We bought in a portaloo, split the volunteers into two sessions to enable social distancing with ease, we stocked up on anti-bac, gloves and facemasks and picked up where we left off. The volunteers were delighted to be back in action and there was once again a buzz of activity.
And then came lockdown number two. There was a rush to check the legislation to see what we were allowed to do. Could we, couldn’t we? Now the clock was ticking, with our charity lease ending in January 2021, there was an ever greater pressing need to send the aid, start clearing the warehouse and focus on finding a new home for the Aid Together Project. Legislation informed us that charity volunteers could be out working if what they did could not be done from home, so there was our answer, but by now the cold weather was upon us. This was not going to be an obstacle and a little bit of wind and chill was not going to stop the team. Back to the warehouse, they went and like Trojans, they worked at full pelt to prepare for a lorry loading.
On November 13th (yes Friday 13th) the 40ft lorry from Belarus backed up to the warehouse shutters and so it began. A committed and determined team worked tirelessly on that cold morning, as 13.5 tonnes of aid was loaded; clothes, shoes, toys, baby goods, arts and crafts materials and community centre resources. 8 hours later, with the fading light of day, the lorry with our donations consigned to the driver’s care, lurched forward and began to move away on its long and arduous 5-day drive towards Belarus.
It is always so exciting to see the lorry’s safe arrival in Minsk and watch it, through social media, of course, be unloaded by our Together Plan team there. In the current climate of a global pandemic and ongoing political protests in Belarus, we were truly working in the dark. Would we be able to do this and keep the volunteers safe? Would we be able to load a lorry at all? Would the consignment be able to cross the border without intervention in the current political unrest? We now know that we could and we did. We are incredibly proud of our volunteers and grateful to all who helped us make this happen under such difficult circumstances.
Our next challenge is to clear the warehouse in north London and find a new home for this incredibly important project. As a charity, we can help landlords reduce business rates on empty properties by 80% with a charity lease. Having occupancy also helps to keep the building safe. So if anyone knows of an empty commercial building or indeed any possible storage space in the north London area, please do contact us.
To watch the short film of our lorry loading, click here.
Finally – thank you to all of you who donate aid to us. While we transition to a new venue (fingers crossed) over the next few months, if you have more donations for us, where you can, we would be mighty grateful if you could hold onto them until we have relocated, which will be early February. You can also help us by only sending us the very best quality items so that we can spend more time sorting and packing the best donations, which means we don’t have to spend time recycling or finding homes for the donations that do not meet our requirements.
For more information about the Aid Together Project click here.