Thousands of Britons have joined local Facebook groups offering food and support for elderly and vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak.
The groups, named Covid-19 Mutual Aid, have been set up in most London boroughs, cities including Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham, as well as smaller towns throughout the UK.
Some groups have received several thousand members in recent days as more and more people self-isolate to prevent the spread of the virus.
In one group, users shared a printable postcard which could be dropped in to neighbours’ letterboxes, with offers to pick up shopping, post mail or even just join them for a “friendly phone call”.
The National Food Service (NFS), an organisation aimed at tackling food insecurity, is now stepping in to offer the volunteers safeguarding training to help with issues such as data protection.
Louise Delmege, director of NFS Bristol, said: “I’ve been amazed by the quick response of the mutual aid groups. These have sprung up so quickly and are already forming into well-organised and thoughtfully co-ordinated groups.
“It’s fantastic to see so many people engaging with this, including a huge number who have never considered self-organised working before.”
However, she warned there was a risk that well-meaning volunteers could inadvertently share others’ personal details in an attempt to help.
“I’m aware that many members are new to community work and don’t have any experience with safeguarding or data protection,” she said.
“I’ve witnessed some groups starting open lists of people’s contact details. This is really dangerous as lists of vulnerable people are a goldmine for scammers.”
Many of the offers to help are aimed at those over the age of 70, who may be asked to self-isolate for up to four months in the coming weeks.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that the growing virus outbreak meant “the elderly and vulnerable” would be asked to “shield themselves by self-isolating”.