New COVID-19 tactics to rip off consumers

Access to future treatments, quick-result testing kits and government support packages are all areas that criminals are likely to exploit in the coming months, according to new intelligence published by National Trading Standards (NTS). The annual NTS Consumer Harm Report reveals how criminals are adapting to changing consumer and business needs as the coronavirus pandemic develops.

While the immediate issues exploited by criminals earlier this year involved the fraudulent sale of fake PPE, hand sanitiser and testing kits, emerging and future issues are likely to include:

  • Price gouging from profiteering traders as demand for specific products rises rapidly, such as Covid-19 treatments, instant-result Covid-19 tests or other high-demand products
  • Online fraud as more and more shoppers avoid the high street and buy online, including a rise in the use of mobile apps and social media for purchases where counterfeiters already operate
  • Legitimate government initiatives that are exploited by criminals, such as fraudsters purporting to represent government to offer business support packages, ‘copycat’ websites mimicking government schemes and the new Green Home Grant; similar initiatives have been targeted by criminals in the past
  • New websites and social media accounts offering ‘miracle cures’ including fake Covid-19 treatments, fast-turnaround testing kits or other forms of purported, non-validated products that make false claims about the virus
  • Virtual home viewings that misrepresent the property for sale or let. Property viewings by video have risen since lockdown and will rise further if future restrictions are imposed
  • Fake refund websites where companies falsely claim to offer ‘assistance’ with claiming refunds for cancelled holidays, processing insurance claims or other losses consumers may have suffered as a result of changed travel plans
  • Exploiting the vulnerable is not a new tactic – but we expect it to become more prominent as the virus encourages more people to shield, increasing loneliness and isolation.

Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:

“During the pandemic we have seen criminals trade fake PPE and hand sanitisers, and prey on vulnerable people at home. As the coronavirus pandemic develops, so too will the type of fraud, and our intelligence shows that criminals are evolving their behaviour again to rip off consumers. There is naturally significant interest in the development of a COVID-19 health product and I urge consumers to be mindful that con artists and tricksters will try to exploit the situation for their own criminal ends.

“The Trading Standards community will work with the resources available to tackle the fake treatment websites and scams as they emerge, and I call on consumers to be extra vigilant – not only for yourselves but for friends, families, neighbours and others in our communities. Report suspected criminal behaviour to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133.”

Lynda Scammell, Senior Enforcement Advisor at the MHRA, said:

“It is important to bear in mind that no medicine is licensed specifically for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19.

“Our advice is to not buy by any products claiming to treat or prevent COVID-19 – any claiming to do so are not authorised and have not undergone regulatory approvals required for sale on the UK market, consequently we cannot guarantee their safety or quality and they may pose a danger to your health and the health of others.”

“We continue to encourage the public, and healthcare professionals, to report any posts claiming to sell these types of products to us via our Yellow Card Scheme: https://yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk/

“Always make sure you buy your medicines from a registered pharmacy or website and your medical devices from reputable retailers.”

The annual Consumer Harm Report also provides an update on the work NTS has delivered. Since NTS was established in 2014, its teams have saved consumers and businesses more than £1 billion, representing £12.64 in consumer and business detriment saved for every £1 spent.

During 2019-2020 National Trading Standards Teams:

  • secured more than £350,000 in compensation for victims
  • took 5,256,377 dangerous and non-compliant goods, with a value of £173 million, out of the supply chain
  • secured 64 convictions, with prison sentences totalling 91 years and more than £400,000 in fines
  • added a further 200,000 ‘friends’ to the Friends Against Scams campaign
  • completed landmark prosecutions for two ticket touts who were sentenced to a total of six-and-a-half years in prison
  • and ensured that the criminals behind ‘copycat’ websites that mimicked official government websites were ordered to pay back more than £6 million under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Small Business Minister Paul Scully said:

“Scams and profiteering schemes are despicable at any time, but particularly so if they seek to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Scammers are master opportunists, and it is shocking to see the new ways in which they are targeting vulnerable people.

“I would urge consumers to take extra care at this time, and to contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service if they feel they might be looking at a scam.”

CTSI Chief Executive, Leon Livermore, said:

“I am appalled and shocked to see the lengths criminals went to defraud the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. UK consumer protection has however risen to the challenge, and I applaud the excellent work of National Trading Standards over the past year.

“Statistics, showing that £173 million worth of dangerous goods were removed from supply chains, highlights the vital role that consumer protection plays. I am proud that consumer protection authorities, and in particular National Trading Standards have risen to the occasion during a period of unprecedented crisis.

“Although the vast majority of British businesses have behaved admirably, sadly a few have attempted to use the situation to their advantage and engage in price gouging.

“CTSI is pleased to support and amplify the excellent work undertaken by NTS and encourage the public to join their excellent Friends Against Scams scheme.

“While we are all working against mounting pressures, consumer protection authorities will continue to work hard, protecting the public in the most difficult circumstances and I am confident that the coming year will bring further news of success.”

Rise in telephone scams predicted as lockdown eases

As COVID-19 lockdown measures start to ease, National Trading Standards is predicting a rise in scam telephone calls as illegitimate call centres around the world get back to work.

To coincide with the expected surge in telephone scams, National Trading Standards is offering 700 free call blockers on a first-come-first-served basis for households looking to prevent nuisance calls.

The call blocker devices make a considerable difference to households targeted by scam and nuisance phone calls. A recent survey, which examined the impact of call blockers provided by National Trading Standards three months after installation, found that 92% of users no longer received scam or nuisance calls and 95% of users no longer felt threatened or scared by these types of calls. By using a call blocker to prevent scam and nuisance calls from reaching users in the first place, 88% of respondents felt safer in their home and 83% of people no longer worried about losing money from a scam call.

COVID-19 has provided new opportunities for telephone scammers to take advantage of members of the public. One company was found to have made over 680,000 automated scam calls over a four-week period, urging people to purchase face masks and hand sanitiser at a cost of £29.99-£49.99 by falsely claiming that the PPE was a government requirement. National Trading Standards took action to prevent further calls being made, saving consumers more than £6million.

The call blocker units supplied are the trueCall Secure call blockers – the same devices that have been used in previous National Trading Standards pilot programmes. trueCall’s latest data from its call blockers predict a sharp rise in nuisance calls as lockdown lifts. Despite telephone scams that were made during lockdown, overall the number of nuisance calls in March was 34% below expected levels and 77% below expected levels for April. However these figures are now picking up as call centres across the world re-open.

Louise Baxter, Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, said:

“Scam callers are relentless and often leave their intended victims feeling scared, anxious and unsafe in their own homes. Our pilot call blocker schemes have already shown the effectiveness of call blockers in protecting households from potential scams and the distress that these types of calls can cause. This technology can make a real difference to the quality of life and emotional wellbeing of people who are targeted by nuisance or scam calls.”

Members of the public who feel threatened by scam and nuisance calls can apply for a free call blocker from National Trading Standards here: www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/callblocker. To minimise the need for technicians to enter people’s homes, devices available through this pilot will need to be self-installed.

Media and Data Minister John Whittingdale said:

“We are determined to end the plague of nuisance calls ruining elderly and vulnerable people’s lives. It’s fantastic to see Trading Standards help block unwanted calls as lockdown lifts.

“By providing 700 call blockers free of charge we can continue to drive down nuisance calls and reduce the emotional distress they cause.”

In a recent study about the effectiveness of call blockers, carried out in partnership with the National Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University, consumers who have received a call blocker reported a significant increase in their well-being after the blocker had been installed and stopped the scam and nuisance calls. One recipient said the call blocker has had an “enormous effect…prior to the call blocker I was getting calls on a regular basis. I lost my husband and this had really helped me feel safer.” Another added: “It’s brilliant as my husband doesn’t answer scam calls anymore and he used to reply to scammers and we lost money to scams. It has all stopped now.”

Professor Keith Brown, Director, National Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work and Professional Practice at Bournemouth University, said:

“We know that criminals are very skilled and clever in the way they use persuasive language in order to win over the confidence of their victims. It can be very difficult at times to know which calls are scams and which are from genuine people so call blockers play a vital role in protecting the most vulnerable in our society. I strongly recommend them.”

Steve Smith, MD of trueCall said:

“As lockdown eases we must all stay vigilant and protect our vulnerable relatives and friends from scams. We’re proud to play our own role in helping protect households from criminals with our call blockers that stop unwelcome callers and ask unrecognised callers to identify themselves before calls are put through.”

Members of the public are also being encouraged to protect themselves, friends and neighbours against scams by joining Friends Against Scams. The initiative provides free online training to empower people to take a stand against scams. To date, nearly 500,000 people have signed up to take part in the initiative. To complete the online modules, visit www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk.

National Trading Standards - Coronavirus Scams

Our work during COVID-19

During COVID-19 we have been working with our clients on important issues that matter. Below is a showreel of some of the campaigns we have been working on with our clients:

 

UK Biocentre

UK Biocentre has transformed its laboratories to test swab samples for COVID-19 on an industrial scale.

Barley has been supporting UK Biocentre with communications advice, working closely with DHSC, and UK Biocentre partners to ensure the work of UK Biocentre staff and the volunteer scientists is reported accurately.

Hear more from the people who helped make this possible – click the video below.

 

Feed The Frontline

Man packing food bags for Feed The FrontlineFeed The Frontline is an initiative from new charity The Healthworkers’ Support Foundation which has been established in response to the COVID-19 crisis, delivering thousands of parcels of fresh produce to healthcare workers. Borough Market spearheaded the campaign to deliver thousands of bags of fresh fruit and vegetables to four London hospitals. Bradford St James Wholesale Market followed suit, working with Leeds Cares to deliver to hospitals in Leeds.

Barley led the media outreach programme and secured 44 pieces of coverage including BBC Radio London, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.

National Trading Standards
Unscrupulous criminals are exploiting fears about COVID-19 to prey on members of the public, particularly older and vulnerable people who are isolated from family and friends. National Trading Standards is warning people to remain vigilant following a rise in coronavirus-related scams that seek to benefit from the public’s concern and uncertainty over COVID-19.

National Trading Standards - Coronavirus ScamsCOVID-19 scams identified include:

  • Doorstep crime
  • Online scams
  • Refund Scams
  • Counterfeit goods
  • Telephone scams
  • Donation scams
  • Loan sharks

We devised and delivered a hard-hitting media campaign for National Trading Standards to raise awareness of these COVID-19 crimes and help prevent more people being scammed.

This led to 60+ pieces of coverage, including BBC News, The Guardian, Metro, Daily Mail and The Times. This coverage has led to a seven-fold increase in new sign-ups to the scams prevention campaign Friends Against Scams and the story overall has led to 10k+ new registrants

Guide Dogs

Martin Clunes and his dogs join the Guide Dogs virtual tea partyBarley supported Guide Dogs in their bid to break the Guinness World Record for the biggest virtual tea party.

32 celebrities, including Martin Clunes, Sir Andy Murray and Dame Julie Walters supported the fundraising effort.

We developed media materials to encourage the public to join the party to help Guide Dogs break the record and donate the price of a cuppa. We delivered blanket coverage including features in the Daily Telegraph, BBC Breakfast, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mirror, Sun online and Metro online, as well as an unforgettable interview with Martin Clunes in his pyjamas on Good Morning Britain.

The result was over 5,000 people posting a selfie of themselves enjoying a cup of tea on the Guide Dogs Facebook page. Many dogs made an appearance in the pictures and there were even some horses, donkeys, chickens and a hedgehog. A new world record was set, and the event raised over £43,000 in funds for Guide Dogs to continue their vital services supporting people with sight loss and their families

We’d like to thank all our clients, Barley colleagues and partners for their wonderful support.

Equipping you and your premises for a social-distanced present and future – free webinar series

A new series of free interactive webinars is launched this month by 2N – global market leader in internet-enabled intercoms and access control systems. 2N On Air aims to help owners of residential and commercial property, architects, designers, security firms and building managers to identify and apply touchless technology which protects buildings and their occupants.

The webinar series, beginning on 11 June, will profile the latest products for door controls in residential and commercial property. It will also include interactive question and answer sessions for those seeking to understand how to address the needs of their proposed or existing buildings.

Coronavirus has already presented many challenges to business. Lockdown in the UK and many European countries has imposed fundamental short-term changes on business as well as individuals.

Some companies have suffered dramatic drops in demand, with many employees furloughed with many factories, offices and shops empty or with skeleton staffing. Other businesses have been able to adapt in the face of continuing or even increased demand. Production lines have been redesigned to meet new hygiene and distancing regulations. Business processes have had to be adapted rapidly to remote working. Retailers and B2B suppliers have pivoted to an online model, resulting in extraordinary pressures on the infrastructure and capacity of distribution and delivery companies.

There have been some clear winners; Joe Wicks, Ocado, Zoom, DHL and the makers of home-baking products, for example. All will hope to carry their lockdown successes forward.

Which businesses are best equipped to emerge from lockdown into the new socially distanced normal, by adapting to new public attitudes? For premises, 2N have products to help make them fit for 2020 and beyond.

CEO Michal Kratochvíl explained 2N’s motivation for the 2N On Air initiative. He said:

“After this great upheaval in our lives, our attitudes towards hygiene and security may have changed. More than before, we may want to avoid touching surfaces such as keypads which we are not sure are clean. We may want to avoid unnecessary face-to-face meetings with strangers, especially at our own front door.

“In the workplace, there may be greater spacing between employees, including receptionists and security staff who may feel nervous about direct exposure to employees and visitors as they enter and exit buildings. Apartment buildings equipped with intercom or mobile-enabled access control systems offer reassuring security without exposing residents, guests and tradespeople to unwanted face-to-face exposure or unhygienic keypads.

“The 2N On Air series offers seminars on the leading products in the market – offering resilient security while maintaining social distancing and good hygiene – and advice to those who are considering whether and how they might future proof their buildings. Commercial property managers can integrate Internet Protocol intercoms and remote door-controls with other software such as employee time recording systems.

“Effective high quality video and mobile-enabled door access controls are already recognised as a competitive advantage for forward thinking building designers and operators. In the new post-coronavirus environment, the resulting wellbeing of building occupants has an even greater value.”

2N itself saw no let-up in demand for its products and its expertise during the lockdown. The advantages of touchless entry controls, remote control of visitor access and socially distanced video intercoms are all the more apparent when so much focus is on hygiene. Its production hub, near Czech capital Prague, continued to operate throughout the period, thanks to highly automated production and assembly lines and a mixture of social distancing protocols and home working. Indeed, one of central Europe’s largest hospitals invited 2N to advise on a tailored door control system to flexibly manage access to Covid-quarantined parts of the estate.

Register for the 2N On Air free webinars. Each webinar is just 60 minutes: https://www.2n.cz/en_GB/on-air

Brits call for investment in cleaner transport post COVID-19

As restrictions on movement remain in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new research released today by the environmental charity Hubbub shows that 74% of us think COVID-19 has given society an opportunity to make some important changes to how we live. People are planning changes to their own travel behaviour and are calling for government investment in cleaner modes of transport, which will help reduce carbon emissions and air pollution.

Polling of a nationally representative sample of 3,000 UK adults conducted by Censuswide found that 62% of respondents had noticed cleaner air and would like to see this continue into the long term, and 75% said the same for quieter roads. Over half (55%) reported that they were enjoying exploring their local area with less vehicle fumes, rising to 60% for Greater London.

When asked about types of transport that the government should invest in, better local transport such as buses, tubes, trams and local trains came top of the list. 64% supported this, despite 29% saying they were finding travelling on public transport stressful at the moment. The popularity of investment in local transport was closely followed by investment in electric vehicle charging points, with 62% agreeing with this and incentivising electric vehicles, with 58% in favour.

Lockdown has seen a significant increase in the nation’s time spent walking and cycling, and this looks set to continue once restrictions are lifted. Respondents who were employed were asked to compare their life before COVID-19 with how they plan to travel to work when some semblance of normality resumes. 38% said they would walk more and 15% said they would cycle more.

However, people were keen for more support from government to make cycling safe. 39% have noticed safer cycling conditions and would like this to continue into the long term and 23% said that their confidence on a bike has increased due to the reduced levels of traffic. Over half (54%) supported government investment in cycle lanes and 44% in bike hire schemes.

In contrast, more polluting modes of transport were considerably less popular areas for investment. Only 1 in 3 (33%) supported investment in roads and under a quarter (24%) agreed with investment in airports, with 34% disagreeing with this. 34% agreed with investment in high speed rail.

Gavin Ellis, Director and Co-Founder of Hubbub said: “The shift to walking and cycling is great news for the nation’s health as well as the environment, and it’s encouraging to see some areas of the UK investing in safer roads for cyclists. It’s also positive to hear that over two thirds of those we polled believe it’s possible to have a strong economy and look after the environment, and this view is supported by the leading businesses we are bringing together through our series of Hubbub Explores virtual workshops to create a new vision for a better and fairer society moving forwards. We’d love more organisations to join us for future workshops, which will cover our relationship with food, how we get around and how we communicate environmental issues.”

For more information about Hubbub Explores, visit: https://www.hubbub.org.uk/hubbub-explores

A keyboard

Businesses join forces to combat COVID-19 scams

More than 100 organisations are spearheading a new initiative to combat fraud against businesses as more companies and employees adjust to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing their exposure to sophisticated business scams.

NatWest, Places for People and the Co-operative Bank are among the first companies to join Businesses Against Scams, a cross-industry initiative led by National Trading Standards that provides free tools for businesses to upskill and train their workforce to help identify and prevent scams.

Security risks include criminals targeting employees working from home who are isolated from colleagues. Scams include criminals impersonating government officials or a senior member of the business to put pressure on employees to give out sensitive information or make payments.

Remote working also presents new cyber security challenges, with security reliant on the resilience of home Wi-Fi routers and more employees familiarise themselves with new software and devices.

The Businesses Against Scams initiative provides free online training modules, including examples of prominent scams and how to avoid falling victim.

Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said:

“Scams not only deceive legitimate businesses, they risk undermining the UK’s economic recovery. As more employees work from home, we’re urging businesses to protect themselves, their employees and their customers to help prevent significant financial losses or data protection breaches.”

The types of scams directly targeting businesses include tax refund fraud, which can lead to significant financial losses for businesses. Scams targeting customers also undermine businesses, as criminals often impersonate businesses to defraud their customer base, causing reputational damage and potential loss of business. The emotional and mental impact on employees who have fallen victim to a scam can also be devastating and long-lasting.

Louise Baxter, Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, said:

“We’ve launched Businesses Against Scams as a free tool for organisations to help safeguard their business and protect their workforce and customers. More than 100 businesses have already signed up to the free training, which is empowering businesses and employees – who are all adapting to new working environments – to take a stand against scams by equipping them with advice and knowledge on how to identify and prevent a scam.”

The four most common scams to target businesses include:

  • Government grant/tax refund scams – A business is contacted by phone, email or post by government imposters suggesting the business might qualify for a special COVID-19 government grant or a tax refund. Variations on the scheme involve contacts through text messages, social media posts and phone messages.Businesses should be cautious about unexpected urgent communications offering financial assistance. Check that the information is genuine by using official government websites.
  • Invoice/mandate scams – A business may be contacted out of the blue by someone claiming to be from a regular supplier. They state that their bank account details have changed and will ask you to change the payment details. Never rush a payment. Use contact details that you already hold or that have been obtained independently rather than any included in the request. Do not call the number in the request or reply with your email details as this may be fraudulent.
  • CEO scams – A sophisticated scam that plays on the authority of company directors and senior managers. An employee receives a phone callor email from someone claiming to be a senior member of staff – they ask for an urgent payment to a new account and instil a sense of panic. Scammers may even hack a staff email account or use spoofing software to appear genuine. Be cautious about unexpected urgent requests for payment and always check the request directly if possible..
  • Tech support scams – With more people working remotely and IT systems under pressure, criminals may impersonate well-known companies and offer to repair devices. Criminals are trying to gain computer access or get hold of passwords and login details. Once they have access, criminals can search the hard drive for valuable information.
    Always check that the bank or payment website you’re using is secure – a small padlock beside the web address will confirm you’re using a secure site. Always be suspicious of cold callers. Genuine companies would never call out of the blue and ask for financial information.

Allison Simon, Head of Fraud, Commercial Banking, NatWest Group said:

“During this uncertain period, fraudsters are using the anxiety and stress caused by the crisis to try and target individuals and businesses with seemingly legitimate and convincing requests. It’s more important than ever that our customers are aware and alert to this increased threat, and its why we’re pleased to be a founding member of Businesses Against Scams, in partnership with National Trading Standards.

“We’d encourage all businesses to remember three basic tips to keep themselves safe. Firstly, never rely on just an email to validate payment – contact the sender on a trusted number. Second, NatWest will never telephone you asking you transfer money to a new or safe account. And finally, if you receive a request from a supplier to update bank account details, always call back using a trusted contact number to check it’s genuine.”

Small Business Minister Paul Scully said:

“Scams are despicable at any time, but particularly so if they seek to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As businesses adopt new working practices in response to the outbreak, it is important they stay vigilant against scams.

“I urge business leaders to sign up to the excellent Businesses Against Scams initiative and make use of free training to help protect their employees, customers and businesses from being taken advantage of during this difficult period and beyond.”

If a business believes they have been the victim of a scam they must contact their bank immediately. Please report any suspicious communication to Action Fraud.

Businesses Against Scams is a new part of the successful Friends Against Scams initiative, run by National Trading Standards to provide free online training to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/

O2 gifting smartphones to Southwark’s most vulnerable to help them stay connected

O2 gifting smartphones to Southwark’s most vulnerable to help them stay connected

O2 is partnering with environmental charity Hubbub to encourage people to donate old or unused smartphones to digitally disconnected members of the community, as part of a trial to tackle digital exclusion during the Covid-19 pandemic. The ‘Community Calling’ trial will initially involve 800 handsets being distributed to residents of Southwark in London.

1.9 million households in the UK don’t have access to the internet and are considered ‘digitally excluded ’. O2 and Hubbub hope to change this, starting with a trial in Southwark which aims to encourage people to donate 500 old or unused smartphones which will be gifted to vulnerable members of society.

The pre-identified list of households has been put together by a number of local organisations in Southwark. Their clients range from the elderly, those in low-income households, survivors of domestic abuse and asylum seekers. Within these groups, each organisation has identified those who would benefit most from a smartphone, based on providing access to essential services, online learning or getting connected to family and friends.

The project will invite members of the local Southwark community and surrounding areas to donate unused smartphones which will then be data-wiped, cleaned and refurbished by Recono.me ready for redistribution. O2 is donating an additional 300 handsets alongside providing pay as you go SIMs and top up to be used with the donated devices.

Unused phones
In the UK, an average of four phones sit unused for every phone in use. O2 and Hubbub hope the trial will demonstrate a feasible phone-gifting model whereby, unused, workable phones can be donated and redistributed to the disconnected across the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond, extending the life of the devices whilst ensuring that people can stay connected to loved ones and vital frontline support services.

Once complete, O2 and Hubbub will share the learnings from the trial to help inform recycling and re-use initiatives in other cities across the UK.

The trial builds on O2’s commitment in March to become a Net Zero business, tackling carbon emissions in its business and supply chain. O2 has the longest-running major UK network recycling initiative in the UK, where customers can trade in their old devices for cash incentives. The scheme has saved over 450 tonnes of mobile phone waste from going to landfill, with all devices received being data-wiped and reused or recycled.

Tracey Herald, Head of Partnerships and Social impact at O2 said “Connectivity is a lifeline for so many at this time – and with so many smart devices sitting in drawers at home, this project provides the perfect opportunity to dust them off for a good cause. The Southwark community has been particularly affected by the recent pandemic, so we’re working in partnership with Hubbub, the local council and community groups to ensure we can distribute these devices to those who need them most. The trial will help us tackle digital exclusion and help the environment too.”

Gavin Ellis, Director and Co-Founder at Hubbub said“Community Calling offers a simple way to get unused smartphones to people who need them most during the current pandemic, allowing them to access essential services, to educate their kids or to stay in touch with loved ones. Plus it has the bonus environmental benefit of avoiding electrical waste going to landfill or incineration. We’re trialling the approach with O2 in Southwark and if successful, we’ll look to replicate it elsewhere in the UK.”

Councillor Evelyn Akoto, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Public Health and Councillor for Old Kent Road Ward said “At a time when we can’t physically visit our friends and families, many people are relying on their phones and computers as their only point of contact with others. This is especially tough on those who are vulnerable and have to isolate completely, and those who cannot afford, or are unable to get access to, a mobile phone or a computer. Our mental health needs protecting as much as our physical health right now, and this project provides a great way to combat loneliness and keep people connected.”

Krzysztof Mikata-Pralat, CEO at Community Southwark said“During this pandemic we are working with front-line organisations serving to support the most vulnerable and working with Hubbub and O2 to help deliver this project will ensure that many members in the borough will be more digitally included. Being able to connect with family, friends or your community is a vital lifeline during this time and we are proud to be a part of this project”

If you’d like to support the trial and donate your old smartphones to the Community Calling project, visit http://www.hubbub.org.uk/communitycalling/ for more details.

To find out more about O2’s commitments to help the nation stay connected, visit: https://www.o2.co.uk/covid-19

Scaling up swab sample testing for COVID-19

At UK Biocentre they have transformed their facility to test swab samples for COVID-19 on an industrial scale.

This would not have been possible without their dedicated staff, 150 volunteer scientists and the support of the British Army, universities and other partners.

Hear more from the people who helped make this possible – click the video below.

COVID-19 Testing Equipment

Milton Keynes laboratory now testing COVID-19 samples 24/7

UK Biocentre analyses samples including the crew of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

More than 150 scientists from academia and industry have joined staff at UK Biocentre to test tens of thousands of COVID-19 samples every day. UK Biocentre laboratories in Milton Keynes have been transformed to analyse swab samples at industrial scale to support the national effort against the coronavirus pandemic.

Tens of thousands of COVID-19 samples are being sent to UK Biocentre every day from the drive through testing centres, mobile testing units and other sites. Home testing kits are also being sent to the laboratory in Milton Keynes for analysis. All swab samples – which are anonymous – are tested within 24 hours and the outcome of every test is then uploaded electronically and sent to the relevant organisation.

On 28 April a batch of additional samples arrived from HMS Queen Elizabeth – the Royal Navy’s largest ever warship and the future UK flagship – and were analysed overnight enabling the ship to set sail from Portsmouth.

The testing has enabled the aircraft carrier to sail from Portsmouth (29 April) to ensure she is ready to conduct her first operational deployment in 2021. The Portsmouth-based aircraft carrier will undergo several weeks of training and assessment with the staff of Flag Officer Sea Training to ensure the UK can deliver on its commitment to have a Carrier Strike Group ready to deploy from the end of this year. The training will include more qualifying training for UK F35 Lightning fighter jet crews, who will be conducting practice manoeuvres from her decks, giving vital experience to the aircrews and ship’s company involved in air operations.

Dr Tony Cox, UK Biocentre CEO, said:
“It is an honour for us to support the national testing effort by analysing samples from NHS staff, other frontline workers and their families – and this week on behalf of the Royal Navy. As the number of people being tested for COVID-19 increases, we are now analysing tens of thousands of COVID-19 samples each day.”

“Our 24/7 operation would not be possible without the support of universities and other partners who have loaned us equipment and the volunteer scientists who are using their expertise to oversee the liquid handling robots, the RNA extraction, the PCR reagent and other vital elements of our process.”

Thanks to vital support from partners, UK Biocentre has expanded rapidly by installing state-of-the-art robotic equipment and other technology enabling scientists to analyse at industrial scale. Large amounts of equipment needed to provide a fully automated service have been installed. Accuracy remains the number one priority and UK Biocentre continues to be supported by the NHS and PHE to ensure the highest standards of accuracy are achieved at industrial scale.

To meet the growing demand, UK Biocentre’s staff team has been joined by an army of more than 150 volunteer scientists – including molecular scientists, technicians and bioinformaticians – to deliver a high throughput, 24/7 analysis service for as long as is needed.

Dr Daniel Patten, a post-doctoral researcher at University of Birmingham, who is volunteering at UK Biocentre as a laboratory assistant, said:
“As a laboratory scientist, I possessed the right skills that were required to volunteer here – the same skills and techniques that I use every week. Many university labs are closed as a consequence of the lockdown and so it’s fantastic to be in the lab and actively contributing to our understanding of this virus. It’s been genuinely incredible to work on this and a fantastic experience. Normally as a researcher, you’d hope to make a key difference over the long-term in your specialty; however, working at the UK Biocentre we can have an immediate impact and could potentially be saving thousands of lives by supporting this national testing effort.”

UK Biocentre is working closely with colleagues at the other two Lighthouse Labs in Glasgow and Cheshire, and is proud to acknowledge the many private and public organisations who are partnering in this unprecedented effort, including Thermo Fisher Scientific, Tecan and Brooks, as well as Public Health England, NHS England and the Department for Health and Social Care.

Vegetables at a grocery store

COVID-19 is changing Britain’s relationship with food

Research paints picture of a divided nation

  • Just under 3 in 5 people (57%) say they value food more now
  • But almost half (45%) are more worried about food than before

Virtual meals, cooking from scratch, wasting less food and families eating together more are some of the positive shifts in food-related behaviours taking place in households across the country according to new research commissioned by environmental charity Hubbub. But the research also reveals many are struggling to put meals on the table and are worried about food, with increasing numbers turning to food banks for the first time.

90% of the nationally representative sample of 2,000+ UK adults surveyed* say their shopping and/or cooking habits have changed since the Coronavirus lockdown started.

What’s Cooking?

45% of respondents say they are cooking more since the restrictions were introduced to stop the spread of coronavirus. Over half (54%) of those cooking more said it was because they now have the time to cook that they didn’t before and 42% cite the need to cook from scratch more due to the sort of food they can get hold of.

44% of people are enjoying cooking more since the restrictions began although more than a quarter (26%) are finding preparing more meals everyday exhausting.

Young people in particular are keen to learn to cook more, with almost half (47%) of those aged 16-24 are seeing lockdown as an opportunity to improve their cooking skills, compared with a national average of 34%. 16-24s were, however more likely to find this tiring, with 40% saying they find preparing more meals everyday exhausting.

Eating and Meeting

More than half of people (57%) say they value food more now since the corona virus restrictions started, with 43% saying they are also enjoying their food more.

40% of those aged 16-24 have had a virtual meal over video link (Zoom, Skype, Facetime etc.) for the first time and almost half (47%) of people are enjoying spending more time eating with their family or housemates.

The diet implications of lockdown may have a lass positive impact on our health. 36% admitted to comfort-eating more to deal with the anxiety or boredom (40% for 16-24-year-olds) and almost a third (31%) are not eating as much fresh fruit and veg as usual due to avoiding shops as much as possible.

Struggling For Food

Whilst a reconnection with food has been a positive experience for some, for others the pandemic has reduced their food security. 45% of respondents said they were more worried about food than before and 43% are worried about the extra cost of providing food for their household. Almost a fifth (18%) of the population is worried about getting access to free food such as through a food bank or community fridge. 7% of people said they have used a food bank for the first time since the restrictions began, rising to 15% of those aged 16-24 and 14% of those aged 25-34.

Food Savvy

Concerns that a surge in panic buying would lead to an increase in food waste levels appear to be unfounded. Almost half of people (48%) say they are throwing away less food since the restrictions began and only 6% say they are throwing away more.

Of those wasting less, people say they are planning meals more carefully (51%) and are getting better at using leftovers (41%). People are also making better use of their freezer, with 35% using it more and 29% freezing a wider variety of foods. Portion control is also a factor, with 27% now giving more accurate portion sizes and just over 1 in 4 (26%) are leaving less on the plate.

Of those wasting less, one in six (17%) are paying less attention to use by dates, eating more out of date food than usual. One respondent recently found a can of beans from 1989. Others consumed a can of coconut milk six years past its sell-by date, a five-year-old bottle of beer and a six-year-old bag of pasta with, fortunately, no ill effects.

With a reported surge in people growing their own and demand for compost through the roof, 45% of people said they’d like to have more skills in growing food, rising to 58% of those aged 25-34 – the most of any age group.

Shifting Shopping Habits

More than a quarter (26%) said they are buying better quality food as they are not going out or spending money on other things. While more than a third (34%) of people are supporting smaller/local businesses more than ever before, 43% say they are buying fewer takeaways as they are worried about contamination. A further 42% say they are not buying takeaways because money is tight.

29% said they were using their local corner shop/convenience store for the first time.

And there are signs that this will this continue once the restrictions are over. The majority (89%) of those who’ve made changes say they will continue to use at least one of the new shopping alternatives to supermarkets once the restrictions have ended. Many will continue to use local shops (41% will carry on using their local corner shop, 20% the local butcher, 13% the local farm shop and 15% the local greengrocer). And many will continue with home deliveries – 11% will continue with their fruit/veg box, 9% with milk delivery.

Trewin Restorick, CEO and Co-Founder of Hubbub said: “The impact of COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we are eating.  Our polling reveals a divided nation.  Some families are eating together more, young people are learning to cook, people want to know more about growing food and are planning meals better and using up leftovers. More people are shopping locally. But concerningly, just under half are more worried about food than previously and 43% are concerned about the cost of food.”

“In response to the polling, Hubbub is stepping up the support that we are providing, helping people get more value from their food – but more needs to be done.  Today we are calling on supermarkets to step up their efforts to provide support and guidance to households helping them cope with these extraordinary times.”

Hubbub’s  top  ten  tips  to make your food go further  whilst  in isolation:

    1. Plan ahead  –  plan your week’s meals and  only buy  the food you need
    2. Avoid panic buying – we are all still able to shop once a week, so you don’t need to buy enough food for a month
    3. Check expiry dates when you’re shopping
    4. Remember that  food  might  still be eaten after its ‘best before date’ – check it looks and smells OK. Food past its best  can still be enjoyed.
    5. Make room  in your freezer so you have plenty of storage space  and check out Hubbub’s helpful guide to  what food you can freeze – it’s more than you think!  https://www.hubbub.org.uk/12-freezer-friendly-foods
    6. Many of us have  neighbours  who might not be able to get out to shop, so offer to share surplus food with them, whilst  remembering to observe government guidelines on hand washing and social distancing
    7. Make the most of store cupboard staples to bulk up meals – now is the time to make use of those chickpeas,  beans and  rice that have been sitting in your  cupboard for some time.
    8. Batch cook  meals  and freeze  them for future use
    9. Check out some of the online resources for free cooking and growing tips and lessons, such as  social  media channels for  Hubbub,  Mob Kitchen  and  Borough Market
    10. Take the opportunity of more time with your children to teach them valuable cooking skills  to set them up for a healthier and more sustainable future

For more advice and tips to make your food go further, visit https://www.foodsavvy.org.uk

Helen Macdonald from Leeds Cares holds a package of fresh fruit and veg for NHS workers as part of the Feed the Frontline initiative

‘Feed the Frontline’ Gives Fresh Fruit and Vegetables to Staff at Leeds and Harrogate NHS Hospitals

National campaign giving high quality food to those battling COVID-19 reaches Yorkshire

Hardworking staff at NHS hospitals in Leeds and Harrogate will be provided with bags of free fresh fruit and vegetables today, as part of a national campaign to provide high quality produce to frontline workers battling COVID-19.

‘Feed the Frontline’ launched on 3rd April, spearheaded by London’s Borough Market which is making twice weekly deliveries to hospitals in the capital. St Thomas’, Kings College Hospital, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, The Whittington Hospital and Orpington Hospital staff have all benefited from bags of seasonal, high quality, fresh food.

The campaign is now launching in Yorkshire, with twice weekly deliveries of 500 bags containing fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables from Bradford St James Wholesale Market and fresh produce supplier Delifresh being made to Leeds Teaching Hospitals, and the newly set up NHS Nightingale Hospital Yorkshire & the Humber, based in Harrogate. Once at the hospitals, the bags will be distributed to frontline staff by volunteers.

Since launch, over 12,000 bags of fruit and vegetable bags have been delivered to NHS frontline staff. Initially funded by private businesses for deliveries throughout April 2020, Feed the Frontline aims to run throughout the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. Set up by new charity, The Healthworkers’ Support Foundation, the organisation is now calling for members of the public to help feed as many frontline staff as possible by donating via www.feedthefrontline.uk. Fruit and vegetable wholesale markets, companies and charities across the UK are also being urged to fund the expansion across the nation.

Jon Kenny, spokesperson for Feed the Frontline said: “We know we are already making a real difference to the hospitals supported by the campaign. The staff who are working around the clock to save lives and care for those affected by Covid-19 are telling us that receiving bags of fresh, seasonal fruit and veg brightens up their day and means they don’t have to spend precious time queuing at supermarkets. We’re asking the Great British Public and more companies to come on board with Feed the Frontline to help fund the expansion to more hospitals so those who are giving so much to care for others can stay healthy and feed themselves and their families.”

Paul Watkins, Director of Fundraising at Leeds Cares, the charity for Leeds Hospitals, said: “I’m so impressed with the quality of fruit and vegetables that we have received. Leeds Cares is proud to support this initiative of supplying fruit and vegetables to staff with a donation of £10,000. Thank you to everyone who is supporting us so that we can fuel the wonderful staff working around the clock at Leeds Teaching Hospitals. A huge thank you also goes to ‘Feed the Frontline’ for this great initiative”

Noel Kershaw, Managing Director at Delifresh said: “The whole team at Delifresh are delighted to be involved in this amazing project in providing beautiful fresh fruit & vegetables to the heroes working tirelessly for our NHS.”

Sara Danesin, a Masterchef finalist who has recently returned to work for the NHS as a Staff Nurse in a busy acute medical ward, said: “A good, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is paramount to maintain good health whilst we are under so much pressure and stress. Our shifts are so long that by the time we have finished, shops are closed or have run out of fresh produce.” 

Visit  www.feedthefrontline.uk for more information about the campaign and how to get involved. Spread the word on social media via @FeedUKFrontline #feedthefrontline

Guide Dogs Virtual Tea Party

Celebrities join forces with Guide Dogs for Guinness World Record attempt at world’s biggest virtual tea party

Martin Clunes, Gregg Wallace, Imelda Staunton, Bill Turnbull and many more are inviting the public to come together for a cuppa in lockdown and raise funds for the charity Guide Dogs.

COVID-19 continues to impact all of us, the national pastime of catching up with friends for a nice cup of tea is on hold. So, Guide Dogs is planning the world’s biggest virtual tea party, to bring the country back together online for a cup of tea, a slice of cake – and the company of some wonderful guide dogs.

A host of famous faces are helping spread the word of the event taking place for National Tea Day, on Tuesday 21st April. They’ll be sharing photos of themselves enjoying a cup of tea and some of their favourite cake and biscuit recipes.

Tea party virtual guests can expect to be entertained by videos and photos of all things Guide Dogs, as well as the opportunity to be part of a Guinness World Record attempt as the charity ask supporters to share a selfie enjoying their favourite cuppa between 3pm and 4pm.

Martin Clunes said: “The charity Guide Dogs does such incredible work year-round supporting people with sight loss, and that work is more important than ever now. I know I’m finding lockdown hard enough to deal with, but for people with sight loss, social isolation can be there every day. That’s why I’ll be raising a cup and supporting Guide Dogs. I hope many others will join me to raise lots of money and hopefully achieve a Guinness World Record.”

Anyone interested in joining in the Great Guide Dogs Virtual Tea Party should click ‘going’ or ‘interested’ on the event on the Guide Dogs Facebook page: https://bit.ly/2UXsKf8. Guide Dogs is asking those who take part to donate the price of a cup of tea to help them continue their vital work supporting adults and children with sight loss.

Pam White, Fundraising Manager at Guide Dogs said: “Over the last few years our wonderful supporters have been hosting tea parties around the country on National Tea Day and donating the proceeds to Guide Dogs. Whilst that isn’t possible in person this year, we’re excited to host our first ever virtual tea party, which will give everyone the chance to join our #GuideDogsFamily and make a difference.”

“In these uncertain times we have adapted our services so we can continue to help those with sight loss. We also remain committed to the welfare of our 8,000 dogs, which are being cared for across the UK. Our income is dropping and it costs £13 a day to support each of our life changing dogs – that’s £100,000 every single day. Donating the cost of your cuppa on National Tea will ensure people with sight loss don’t feel alone now, and in the future.”.

For more information please visit www.guidedogs.org.uk/teatime