One in a million: Ema Wilkes, NEO Community

Ema Wilkes is one in a million.

The founder of NEO Community in Wirral is one of over 400 charities and more than one million people to benefit from the Steve Morgan Foundation Covid-19 Emergency Fund since it was launched in March 2020. 

Here’s her story and that of NEO Community.

When Covid-19 struck Ema Wilkes said there was absolutely no way the charity NEO Community was going to stop operating.

Neo runs a wide range of services including a café, social supermarket, youth club, wellbeing sessions, bistro and art room and operates a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ model, which allows people to pay what they can in money, skills or time.

Ema said: “Because of the pandemic we had to close the main house because of the rules around social distancing but we just ramped up all our other services and have been operating 16 hours a day for the last 10 weeks. It never crossed our mind to shut up shop because there was such a need for us.”

The charity’s work has been supported by a £38,020 grant by the Steve Morgan Foundation Covid-19 Emergency Fund.

“We couldn’t have done as much as we’ve been able to do without the help of the Steve Morgan Foundation but we’re a force to be reckoned with,” said Ema.

NEO employs seven people and has a core team of 52 volunteers. Before Covid-19 it was engaging with 500 individuals through its community house.

Ema said when the pandemic hit they restructured their operation to help people most in need with food insecurity being a main concern.

They presented their plans to Wirral Council and were asked to form part of an emergency response alongside Gautby Road Play Youth and North Birkenhead Development Trust, which runs a multi-purpose community centre called St James Centre. 

In partnership with Wirral Council they have been able to support over 12,000 hampers going out across Wirral benefiting 44,800 individuals. 

In addition NEO has also funded and delivered 500 children’s colouring activity packs; distributed 2,500 Easter eggs, made and delivered 100 VE afternoon tea packs; supplied 260 children’s pack lunches; produced and cooked on average of 500 meals a day; hosted online affordable and easy cook recipes; and  bought an extra 26 pallets of food and supplies.

The charity also delivered hot meals and activities to children across our borough during half-term; handed out 53 hot meals a night to the homeless and domestic violence victims who have been temporarily housed with minimal access to cooking facilities; and gifted 900 vegan burgers, chips, buns, smoothies, fruit bags and juice across three refugee accommodations in Liverpool.

In addition to the food support the charity has made 50 wellbeing calls per week to elderly and isolated individuals and posted daily online wellbeing and mental health support posts.

Ema admitted responding to Covid-19 had been a huge learning experience for everyone.

“No matter what the struggle is you see the best and worst in people in a crisis,” she said. “In my experience it’s brought communities together. When you empower people to take the lead amazing things happen. I’m proud that NEO has been able to be part of the solution.”

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