IT started as a morning rant over a cup of coffee.

Three months on, Peter Dutch’s Colchester Anti-Loo Roll Brigade has become a “magical, incredible force of kindness” - a social experiment that shattered all expectations.

The Facebook group was set up in mid-March with the simple aim of reaching out and helping those in need during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kind-hearted residents joined forces to help and support the vulnerable and elderly, helping deliver food and supplies to those in need.

Since then, however, the project has snowballed, growing beyond all recognition and now boasting a powerful 9,000 followers.

In addition to collecting shopping and prescriptions, the group have provided online teaching, rehoused families, provided furniture and even brightened up a care home by sending an Elvis impersonator.

It’s been an unmitigated success, with no sign of slowing down, and Mr Dutch, a former builder and DJ, admits it’s “mind-boggling”.

“I remember listening to the radio at the start of the pandemic,” said the 49-year-old, who lives in Rudsdale Way, Prettygate.

“Tough times were clearly on the horizon and it incensed me when I looked at social media, seeing people fighting over loo rolls.

“I couldn’t believe how selfish they were being.

“I wanted to do something and that’s why I set up my Facebook page.

“The idea was to give people an outlet to share and care - a place for the vulnerable to reach out - and I thought it would just be a few of us doing a bit of shopping.

“When we had our first success story, I remember jumping up and down with glee. To say I never expected it to grow as it has is an understatement.

“It’s exploded beyond my wildest dreams and it’s become a medium for facilitating kindness in Colchester.

“We’ve got over 9,000 followers on Facebook, there are sister branches, including one in Ipswich, and other similar ventures have popped up around the UK.”

In addition to its strong online presence, Mr Dutch’s group has been supported by an army of selfless volunteers, raising their head above the parapet to help others in need.

They have also been overwhelmed by the kindness of individuals and businesses, offering things for them to distribute.

“It’s progressed and changed during the pandemic,” said Mr Dutch, who is married to Ann and has two sons, Hayden, 18, and Joe, 16.

“At the start, we were inundated with requests from the elderly and isolated.

“People were panicking and our group linked the community, encouraging people to look out for each other.

“Since then it’s grown and grown and sprouted off in all different directions.

“We’ve been working with different agencies and we set up an education section, where teachers in our community offered online lessons to help parents with home schooling.

“We’ve had people offering to drive and collect shopping and prescriptions.

“We even managed to stage an Elvis concert outside a care home, when someone contacted us because they weren’t going to be able to see their mum on Mother’s Day.

“Our tribute act went and sang in the road outside and we also sent a six-piece pipe band along. It was amazing.

“People have been so kind and we’ve been inundated with offers, because everyone wants to help and look out for each other.

“For example, our Bangladeshi community have been amazing, providing free meals for care home and NHS staff. We must have delivered thousands.

“We set up a campaign with St Helena Hospice, called Get Colchester Covered, to provide personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We were inundated with requests from care home and relatives and distributed about 13,000 masks.

“Since then, working with the council, we’ve been able to help link the care home with suppliers.

“Thanks to offers of things like furniture, we’ve managed to help refurbish dozens of homes by working with the relative agencies.

“We’re also in the process of rebuilding a house that was destroyed by fire. It’s been our very own DIY SOS project!”

From simple beginnings, the project has become a “safety cushion for Colchester”.

Mr Dutch, who has lived in the town since he was ten months old, believes his group has brought people together and united them during the pandemic.

“It’s mind-boggling what we’ve achieved and I never anticipated anything like this,” said the former Gilberd School student.

“People are very proud to be involved and rightly so, because we’re providing a massive safety cushion for Colchester.

“Together, we’ve pulled a big part of the town together, helped people during a crisis and given them somewhere to turn when they’ve hit rock bottom.

“In a way, it’s been a very interesting social experiment and people who know me have asked how a cheeky chap like myself has managed to start something on this scale.

“It’s a fair question and I don’t really know the answer.

“What I do know, though, is that we’re all about spreading positivity and celebrating the good in people.

“Our Facebook group isn’t a place for debate or politics - it’s about reaching out, helping and making people feel less lonely.

“We’ve become part of people’s lives and given them a break from the negativity you tend to read online or in the news.

“It’s been magical - a force of kindness and goodness - and an amazing story. Someone should make a film about it!”