Coronavirus Cambridgeshire: Coummunity transport group FACT could be asked to expand its service during the current emergency

FACT could play an increasing and vital role during the coronavirus pandemic Picture: Harry Rutter/

FACT could play an increasing and vital role during the coronavirus pandemic Picture: Harry Rutter/ARCHANT - Credit: Harry Rutter/ARCHANT

Community transport provider FACT may be asked to play a major part in helping vulnerable and elderly people access shopping and prescriptions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Fenland Council leader Chris Boden, also a FACT board member, said tonight that talks would begin on Monday to see if its services could be expanded. He said he spoken with FACT chairman Gary Christy and other board members and he was “surprised just how much capacity we weren’t using”.

He had also spoken with Fenland Council hub leader Dan Horn to discuss ways in which the transport group could be used to a greater extent.

The community transport group has switched emphasis to provide home deliveries using volunteer support based at their March headquarters.

With 10 phone lines, the charity is using volunteers to sort orders and then arrange for delivery to many of Fenland’s most vulnerable residents.

On a typical day last week, said a FACT spokesman, they were handling 50 orders but by the end of the week this had begun to rise.

FACT is developing a simple formula by only using Tesco for shopping and only using the Tesco pharmacy. All shopping is in bulk once orders are put through to them and then groceries and essentials allocated to individual boxes for home delivery.

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Once they receive their goods, the householder calls FACT and makes a card payment for the invoiced items.

“It is working well,” said the FACT spokesman. “We are ahead of many other community transport groups in what we are doing. We are being supported, too, by Age Concern, the Care Network, the county council support hub and by a housing association that has tenants in sheltered accommodation.”

Cllr Boden said: “What is being done with the relationship with Tesco and its manager at March is absolutely superb and way ahead of other community transport hubs; it’s just a matter of absolute good luck we are a stone’s throw from Tesco.”

Cllr Boden said talks would take place on Monday to ensure a “consistent message” was put out and he would be talking with council leaders in East Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire where FACT also operates.

“From my perspective it makes an enormous amount of sense to use the logistics side of FACT for shopping and first stage of distribution,” said Cllr Boden.

“I see FACT as being a massively plus point and that’s what we will be discussing tomorrow morning.”

Cllr Boden believes it will clear up any confusion; some of which may have been created earlier when a Wisbech councillor had told FACT they were not needed in the town during the coronavirus pandemic.

Councillor Steve Tierney, who is also Fenland Council’s lead member for emergency planning, said: “At the moment the instruction is that FACT is covering March (and some other areas) and we are covering Wisbech”.

He added: “If FACT is now handling Wisbech then all our local volunteers, who have done hundreds of calls over the last fortnight (and a dozen already today) can hand over to you and stay home.”

The extraordinary exchange – sent to us from comments posted on a Facebook forum – surprised FACT officials who have been working across Fenland helping people with home deliveries of essential supplies.

Cllr Tierney said that “loads of residents had letters last week asking them to ring their orders through to us”.

He said: “I think multiple contradictory and competing messages extremely unhelpful and have emailed officers with regards to it.”

Cllr Tierney said letters sent out “which I signed off on, advised residents to call the FDC helpline number, as did the 10,000 leaflets we have delivered”.

Wisbech town council leader Samantha Hoy confirmed the letters from Fenland Council were sent out and with a helpline number.

“When they call Fenland Council, they get different numbers depending on where in fenland they live. If they live in March, they are given FACT’s number.”

The FACT spokesman said they were seeking talks with Cllr Tierney. They felt the public would welcome support from wherever it comes “simply to ensure fewer people are out there shopping”. On social media Cllr Tierney said he had managed to secure a quantity of face masks.

“I stress that face masks don’t go a whole lot to stop the virus, but they do have a minor effect in reducing risk and particularly in stopping you spreading it if you happen to be infected and don’t know.

“They also make people a little less scared which I think has some value.”

He offered to drop them off to any householder who contacts him.