A FUND launched to help small charities and community groups tackle the effects of the pandemic has broken the £1 million barrier.

The Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Appeal launched on March 20 and besides racking up the enormous total, the fund has already distributed more than £650,000 to almost 170 community groups.

Co-interim chief executive Fiona Oliver said the help of the public in Wiltshire and Swindon has been remarkable. “We are truly thankful for what has been an overwhelming response to this appeal,” she said.

“When we launched, we were hopeful of raising £50,000 and then we reset that to £150,000. The money kept coming in and we set a new target of £500,000 and then when we passed that we aimed at £1 million. Now the incredible generosity of people in the county has taken us past this and we’ve revised our target again to £1.5 million.”

As well as public support, the fund has been boosted by donations from charitable trusts, businesses including the Zurich Community Trust, Wessex, Water, Thames Water, the Oakfield Development and the Police and Crime Commissioner’s fund.

The groups to have benefitted have included foodbanks, youth and children’s projects and those caring for the elderly and people with disabilities as well as charities dealing with mental health, domestic abuse, homelessness, loneliness, isolation and, education.

The fund has helped long-established charities including Age UK and Wiltshire Sight as well as groups that sprang up specifically to deal with the crisis, such as Chippenham-based Shield Wiltshire, which produced 20,000 plastic visors for frontline workers and was awarded £4,000 from the fund.

Founder Anette Alchin said: “We discovered amazing community spirit when we started up and the Wiltshire Community Foundation grant really helped us, it was fantastic.”

Stratton Juniors Football Club was given £2,000 to cook and deliver hundreds of hot lunches to elderly people shielding alone at home.

Chairman Magnus Painter said: “The grant from Wiltshire Community Foundation has been brilliant and not only did it help us keep going for a couple of months, but it helped us buy good quality, nutritious food.”

Swindon North MP Justin Tomlinson paid tribute to the community foundation for reaching the milestone.

He said: “It is fantastic to see £1 million raised for our vital voluntary groups who are supporting our communities in these unprecedented and challenging times. It is a real credit to the Wiltshire Community Foundation and their very kind donors that this much needed support has been organised at such a critical time.”

Swindon South MP Robert Buckland added: “ I would like to thank everyone here in Swindon who has supported the community foundation. I would also like to pay tribute to the team at the Wiltshire Community Foundation who have worked tirelessly to help achieve this goal at such a difficult time.”

North Wiltshire MP James Gray said: "It was fantastic to hear that £1 million has been raised to support voluntary groups in Swindon and Wiltshire, and I am very grateful for all the donors who have helped the community foundation to reach this figure. This is an amazing achievement and I know what a great difference that will make to the groups across the community, especially during this extremely challenging time.”

Mrs Oliver said that despite her and her colleagues’ delight at reaching £1 million, the hard work goes on.

She said: “For many people in Wiltshire facing losing their job or reduced hours the hardship is only just beginning and the voluntary sector is going to be needed more than ever before.

“But at the same time many of these vital groups are struggling to keep going after losing months of fundraising so our fund is just as much an important lifeline for them now as it was back in March. We very much still need the support of the people of the county.”

To donate to the fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk