South Tyneside Council has secured more than half a million pounds worth of funding to support a COVID Community Champions scheme aimed at supporting those most at risk from the virus and to boost local vaccination rates.
The money will allow the Council, working in partnership with the third sector and local voluntary sector umbrella organisation Inspire South Tyneside, to build on the good work in identifying hard-to-reach communities and providing them with bespoke communication.
Leader of the Council, Councillor Tracey Dixon, said: "This money will be used to build trusted networks of champions equipped with accurate health information who will play a pivotal role in helping to save lives, especially in our most at-risk groups such as the elderly, disabled people and those from minority ethnic backgrounds."
The champions will work with influential groups and local faith leaders to tackle misinformation and make sure people know how to keep themselves safe.
Charlotte Harrison, Inspire Chief Executive, said: "Throughout the Covid19 pandemic, the voluntary sector across South Tyneside has worked with colleagues in local government and health to ensure vital services remain in place for our communities.
"As we move into the next stage of Covid19, with great progress being made on local roll out of vaccines, we need to redouble our efforts to reach out to all communities with good quality, tailored information about vaccines, about maintaining covid awareness and safety and ensure any concerns or worries people may have are understood and addressed. This funding will allow us to achieve this and we're looking forward to getting started."
One of the Covid Champions already recruited to the scheme is 34-year-old Stephen Sullivan from South Shields.
Stephen, who is a bar owner and actor, signed up to become a Covid champion because he is keen to make sure people have the facts about the vaccine and the virus.
He said: "It's essential to get the facts out there but also the localised facts and figures which help to give a clear picture of where we are as a borough in the fight against coronavirus.
"This can be a confusing time for all but as a Covid Champion I'm looking forward to getting clear, factual information out there. I also think it's incredibly important to combat the increase in speculation and false news."
Stephen is no stranger to volunteering. He has spent much of the pandemic doing all he can to help others. This has included shopping for vulnerable people, delivering newspapers to the elderly and providing an online 'storytime' service to help with home schooling as well as helping people stay connected through online live videos and raising vital funds for local charities.