A community project is continuing its work to provide essential items and services to the homeless, disadvantaged and vulnerable during the pandemic despite the challenges of operating in lockdown.

Watford-based Hand on Heart has distributed hundreds of packs with essential items and sleeping bags during February to rough sleepers across central and Greater London, Hertfordshire, Milton Keynes and Southend.

The work of the group, which became a registered charity earlier this month, has been praised by Watford MP Dean Russell, who has witnessed the group’s work at first hand.

He said: “It has been a pleasure to work with Hand on Heart. The work that they are doing to support the vulnerable is invaluable.

“We are incredibly lucky to have this service in Watford and I would like to thank everybody involved for giving up their time to help those that are less fortunate.

Dean Russell, right, at Hand on Hearts headquarters in Watford

Dean Russell, right, at Hand on Heart's headquarters in Watford

“Charities and organisations like Hand on Heart have such a vital role to play and I am really pleased that I have been able to work closely with them on a number of fantastic initiatives.”

Now in its 13th year, Hand on Heart has been providing help to rough sleepers in London on an annual basis. It originally worked with shelters and supplied thousands of food parcels to the homeless, but since 2019 has evolved and has been providing winter warmer packs to the homeless.

The essential packs, which have been assembled by 45 families, contain sleeping bags, blankets, joggers, thermals, gloves, woolly hats, underwear, socks, deodorants, PPE, oral hygiene sets, and other toiletries, all in a drawstring bag.

Thumbs up: Hand on Heart co-founder Afzal Pradhan

Thumbs up: Hand on Heart co-founder Afzal Pradhan

Trustee and co-founder of Hand on Heart Afzal Pradhan said: “We have faced challenging times this winter with restrictions due to lockdown. Not only have we found it difficult to operate, but the weather has been harsh for rough sleepers as we sadly see an increase in the number of families coming to our outreach drives due to the pandemic.

“However, we have overcome these obstacles by adjusting our operating method and found a way to distribute our essential packs in a safe manner.

“Hand on Heart volunteers, including parents with children, have assembled more than 1,800 winter warmer packs this winter and they have been the shining light in this storm.

“With the help of Beta Charitable Trust, Al-Mizan and our donors, we have raised over £40,000 this winter and assembled and distributed nearly 33,000 essential items including winter clothing, toiletries, PPE, blankets and sleeping bags.”

Mr Pradhan added: “Our mission is to alleviate the hardship of disadvantaged and vulnerable families including the homeless. We will provide support to vulnerable groups in the UK and overseas regardless of their colour, faith, gender or culture.

“We also aim to inspire and support a group of volunteers to enable community engagement and form collaboration with other charities to serve humanity.”

A heart-shaped collection of winter warmer packs

A heart-shaped collection of winter warmer packs

The impact of Covid-19 has driven Hand on Heart’s activities in the past year, completing the following projects in 2020:

Lockdown homeless campaign (in March) - 370 packs distributed in central London.

Easter homeless campaign (in April) - 250 packs distributed in central London.

2.6 Challenge (in April) - 1,200 lunch packs distributed to NHS frontline workers.

Spring homeless campaign (in May) - 550 packs distributed in central London.

Sumer Homeless campaign (in July) - 850 packs distributed in central and Greater London.

School backpacks (in August) - 650 stationary-filled backpacks distributed to children in low-income households.

Supplies for refugees (in October) - assisted a Choose Love initiative to provide toiletry supplies.

Winter warmer packs (in November) – More than 1,000 distributed in London and other cities/towns across England.