MORE than 1,500 people have volunteered to take part in BCP Council’s community scheme aimed at supporting its most vulnerable residents.

Launched on Friday, Together We Can is being run with the support of the Community Action Network charity.

Council leader Vikki Slade said she was “delighted” with the response and said it was “remarkable” it had been set up so quickly.

“I know that this is a stressful and worrying time for everyone and there are some residents across our three towns who desperately need help with accessing food and every day household items,” she said. “ I would encourage anyone who is in this position to call our dedicated helpline so that we can connect you with our volunteers and get you the support you need.”

The helpline number is 0300 123 7052 and will be manned between 8am and 8pm seven days a week.

She said the 1,500 volunteers would be joined by council staff who will help pick up food and other household supplies as well as “provide a cheerful voice” for those self-isolating.

The council has also stepped up efforts to house rough sleepers with about 100 being given accommodation in the last few weeks.

Andrew Teale, outreach manager at St Mungo’s said, which runs the council’s support services, said:  “This is an extremely difficult time for our clients, who are worried and anxious about everything that is happening.

“Our team have responded heroically, making sure everyone has clear information, somewhere safe to stay and continued support once they are in self-isolation.”

But there were still “six or seven” rough sleepers who had refused the council’s offers of housing.

She said they would continue to be given support until accommodation is found.

A block of toilets has been kept open for their use "with police support" even though the remainder have been closed.

Elsewhere, the receipt of government grants has allowed the council to increase the amount of support it can provide to its tenants with millions of pounds in extra funding for council tax relief.

The council has also received a total of £128 million in grants to support businesses.

But its chief executive, Graham Farrant, said the crisis had “completely undermined”its budget for the coming year.

At the same time, he said the council was also dealing with about ten per cent of its workforce either being off ill or self-isolating.

As a result, more staff had been redeployed from less essential services such as grass cutting to manage services deemed to be more critical, including bin collections and social care.

However, he warned it was possible the frequency of recycling or waste collections could be reduced if staffing levels continue to fall as the virus continues to spread.