This was the simplest of ideas, which was hatched earlier this summer by the unlikeliest of combinations – a Baroness from the House of Lords and a doctor at a South Wales hospital.
Almost half a million COVID-19 ‘distance aware’ badges have been produced, being worn as a polite prompt to promote social distancing.
And now, led by Rotarians in South Wales the initiative is being supported by Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland.
Last March, social shielding came into force to protect the most vulnerable. Dr Helen Iliff, a Bevan Exemplar, and a core anaesthetic trainee with the Cwm Morgannwg University Health Board in Merthyr Tydfil, was one of those social distancing.
She realised the need for a polite prompt to others to maintain a respectful distance as lockdown started to ease.
Working with Baroness Finlay, her idea for a ‘Distance Aware’ symbol, showing a protective shield, was put together. With multi-coloured designs, the badge is now being rolled out across Wales and other parts of the UK, and it has been endorsed by both the Welsh and UK governments.
“It is something Baroness Finlay and I are both very proud of,” said Helen.
“It is going to be one of these things which comes in peaks as people go out a little more.
“This is about politely prompting people. It is not saying ‘you have to do this’, or ‘you have to do that’. It is a polite reminder which we felt that was important.”
Rotary has got on board to provide Rotary-branded badges. Maggie Hughes, Secretary of Cardiff Breakfast Rotary, and Public Image Team Lead for South Wales, said the idea has been well received across the country.
She said: “My own club has distributed badges to our own members and their families who require them, especially if they were shielding and particularly friends who have been undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments.
Rotary has got on board to provide Rotary-branded badges. Maggie Hughes, Secretary of Cardiff Breakfast Rotary, and Public Image Team Lead for South Wales, said the idea has been well received across the country.”
“One Interact club has asked for a supply to be distributed to families and teachers.
“We have supplied them to a special needs school, a golf club, our local church, and to staff at a Salvation Army group which has residential bedsit facilities for young people who have either been thrown out of their homes or rescued from modern slavery.”
Helen, 28, said that having Rotary’s support was crucial because of the organisation’s connection at so many levels. She pointed out how the badge could be used in the same way as how the Rotary-supported dementia cafés are run.
“If a business wants to encourage people to come back into their space, they can say we are a distance aware organisation. It is a positive message.
If a business wants to encourage people to come back into their space, they can say we are a distance aware organisation. It is a positive message.”
“All this negative messaging around social distancing, and a lack of social distancing, is a really scary thing for the public.
“Giving a really positive message about social distancing will encourage people back into those spaces again.”
More than 200 organisations and businesses have got involved in the scheme, each funding their own badges. Helen admitted she was amazed how quickly it had gathered pace.
“The people funding it are the people who believe in it and they believe it is going to have benefit,” she added.
“The people using it are the people seeing the benefit.
“If it makes one person able to go outside and able to not be isolated, it is worth it. And if it keeps one person out of intensive care, it will have paid for itself.