Two motorcycle enthusiasts who mobilized a team of bikers to deliver thousands of meals and medical supplies during the pandemic said they would do it again.
Husband and wife Anthony and Vikki van Someren received the British Empire Medal in New Year Honors for their work in Hackney.
Vikki and Anthony, 55, known as the Dutch, run the Bike Shed in Shoreditch, which includes a shop, restaurant and cafe, and the Bike Shed Show for thousands of keen bikers. They were also busy planning the next step – opening a branch in Los Angeles.
When the pandemic hit, the couple, who live in Archway, organized a contact team to help deliver essential supplies and food to the NHS, care homes and residents who urgently needed support.
It grew quickly, with more than 1,400 volunteers registered at the height of the outbreak.
Between them, they have distributed more than 7,000 oximeters across London and “tens of thousands” of food deliveries.
One volunteer single-handedly delivered 600 oximeters, which measure people’s blood oxygen levels to tell how well they’re breathing, avoiding the need for doctors or ambulances to deliver them.
Vikki, 47, said: “The response from the Bike Share community meant we could step in and help others and people saw how cyclists can help, with good people doing good things.”
She added: “If needed, we could probably mobilize 300 to 500 volunteers overnight.”
They still deliver food for Centrepoint in London and Young Carers in Dorset.
Delivering oximeters, she said: ‘We’ve had calls from doctors saying you’re literally saving lives.
The tool can help detect silent hypoxia – a complication of Covid – where people have low blood oxygen levels.
Volunteers were able to deliver oximeters within 90 minutes of the call. They often stayed with sick residents while they were tested to be on hand if they needed to call an ambulance or needed urgent care.
“Often the person receiving the oximeter was worried, scared and vulnerable,” Vikki explained. “It would be reassuring for them to be delivered by a volunteer.
“If you cycle, it’s the quickest way to get through London traffic. As bikers, my husband and I understand how efficient it can be.
The couple worked long hours handling up to 300 calls a day and used a motorcycle courier app to help organize deliveries and pick-ups of meals and gear.
Vikki recalls, “We used Gophr, which made it easy to intervene and made it very safe, everyone had license checks, we had criminal checks for drug deliveries. We created it from scratch.
The team worked with charity Centrepoint and The Ned hotel in the City of London to deliver food to young people in need across Hackney, and worked with schools to bring food to pupils.
“In Hackney it was mostly PPE (personal protective equipment) delivery at first,” Vikki said.
“We have brought PPE to nursing homes, doctor’s practices, hospices, pharmacies and delivered it directly to hospitals.”
Some equipment was even delivered by relay across the country.
When things returned to “normal”, volunteers worked from centers at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead and Charing Cross Hospital in Fulham.
Vikki said the group of volunteer runners also gave runners purpose at a time when some were on leave or unable to work.
“Volunteers often tell us, ‘You don’t understand how much purpose this has given us. It helped their mental health.
She added: “It has created lasting friendships for our volunteers. They really supported each other. »
They also paid for their own fuel, she pointed out.
“We did it full time, flat out for 20 months. All credit goes to the volunteer call handlers and responders.
“It was a difficult but rewarding time.”
She continued, “I think emotionally the phone calls were the hardest thing, when you had a doctor call and a patient call and they’re not well and very scared. The number and scale of it – you can’t get away from Covid on the front line. It was terrifying and moving.
“We just wanted to keep stepping up and doing what we were doing. With 1,400 volunteers across the UK, working in this industry alone, stepping up and helping their neighbours, it gives us faith in humanity again.
Covid rules permitting, the couple plan to open a new Bike Shed in Los Angeles in February and stage their motorcycle show at Tobacco Dock in Tower Hamlets in the summer.
But if they are needed, the volunteers could be back.
As for the award, Vikki said, “We’re still in shock.”
The couple aim to continue the volunteer work started by the team in times of crisis.