Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, around 10,000 new volunteers in Hampshire – out of an estimated 1 million new volunteers nationwide – have signed up to support local volunteer responses and organisations. Volunteers’ Week, taking place nationally from 1st-7th June, provides an opportunity to give thanks for the many ways that volunteers have supported people in their communities throughout the crisis.
For the past ten weeks, Community First’s Volunteer Service has never been so busy. Janet Duggan, Business & Volunteering Engagement Manager, said:
When the news came that we were entering into lockdown and a pandemic was going to be part of our lives for the immediate future, we all changed the way we worked. From our lounges, bedrooms and kitchens, the team responded to the call to action for volunteers and set in place a recruitment process for members of our communities to help with the crisis. To date, we have received 1,500 offers of help across our areas (referring around 600 people to existing community groups) and have launched our very own ‘Community First Delivers’ volunteer response. We couldn’t be more grateful to all the amazing COVID-19 response volunteers and our staff coordinating them.
To open Volunteers’ Week, people across the country joined in with #ClapForVolunteers on the evening of 1st June to recognise the above and beyond response from volunteers. Here are just some of the ways that volunteers have been helping and how people can get involved:
1) Food shopping and prescriptions
In Havant and East Hampshire, volunteers from Solent Advanced Bikers are helping Community First make prescription deliveries within an hour of receiving a request for help.
Simon Lamont, a Solent Advanced Biker and Community First Delivers volunteer, said,
Communication from the Volunteer Service Staff has been great, and I’ve been enjoying doing this while the club can’t go out like normal. I hope we don’t have to keep doing this too long for the sake of the country, but I’m happy to keep doing it while I’m needed.
As lockdown gradually eases, the ways that volunteers are lending a hand to local people have extended beyond the basics. A couple in Fareham asked Community First if any volunteers could help by tending their allotment while they are shielding – an immediate and enthusiastic response from Community First’s bank of local volunteers showed that there would be no shortage of people willing to help! They have since been linked to another couple with a passion for gardening.
2) Emergency food supply
Food banks are faced with the challenge of an increased demand for emergency food parcels, alongside the necessary limiting of volunteers on-site to comply with safe social distancing. Before COVID-19, Foodbank Po9 was supporting 10-20 households per week.
Now, they support an average of 45 households per week, and sometimes up to 100. Around 5-6 new service users who had never previously used a food bank are signing up each week. 100% of the effort on the ground comes from volunteers, who organise food parcels at Leigh Park Community Centre and cooked meal deliveries through LunchBank
Po9 at Bedhampton Community Centre.
Local volunteer centres and their volunteer responders also help local District and Borough Councils with delivering emergency food parcels to households. Community First’s New Forest team supported an elderly New Forest resident who lives alone with his dog, has
limited mobility, had very little food left and was also trying to feed his dog. Jackie Hartless from Community First said:
Our team arranged for New Forest District Council to send an emergency parcel out, and for the local group to help with basic shopping, toiletries and pet food. They contacted local shops who were happy to take a telephone order for him that local volunteers could collect and deliver to him, as well as collecting his prescriptions.
Volunteers are helping shielded people not only with their practical needs, but their social and emotional needs too. On the first day of the lockdown, volunteers at Community First in Fareham received a call to help a man experiencing mental distress. He now receives daily befriending calls. Fareham responders have also helped him make his rent payment, read his meter for him, and a volunteer even bought him a spare pair of trousers.
Claire Jarman, a volunteer who delivers food shopping to various couples in Fareham, also
has phone calls with some of the people who she regularly helps. Claire said:
I really enjoy doing it, it just gives me a sense of worth. I live alone and I am still working from home for the civil service. It’s a sense of community, and it’s nice to have some company for myself as well as for them, with weekly phone calls and dropping by with shopping. I recommend volunteering for anybody wanting to gain confidence and help.
Responding to increasing levels of social isolation, Community First is launching its own Befriending Scheme from Monday 8th June.
4) Bringing communities together
Volunteer responders in the parishes of Hale and Woodgreen in the New Forest approached Community First in the New Forest asking for ideas that could bring communities together in a safe and distanced way. The idea that they put into action was a scarecrow competition with a theme of Key Workers. There are now over 56 scarecrows in total according to Rob Hutchinson, one of the organisers and COVID-19 Community Response Coordinator.
With the entries still climbing and many of them from children, Rob said the competition had “produced a lot of fun and laughter” in the villages. Over in Havant, Leigh Park residents took part in a time capsule project organised as a voluntary effort by Leigh Park Community Centre. The project encouraged residents to create a capsule to remember how the community came together in a time of crisis. Photos
were shared on social media via Leigh Park Community Centre’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/leighparkcommunitycentre
5) Volunteering through a charity
Many charities and non-profit organisations still need volunteers to help them continue and adapt their existing services, during and after the pandemic. In Winchester, Volunteer Cyclists are distributing 1,500 hot meals to vulnerable people in and around the city every
week in an initiative to get hot, nutritious food to those who need it most. Led by local community food project FirstBite, the initiative uses supplies of surplus food from FareShareUK, Tesco Extra Winnall and donating this to Red Radish, a local catering company that
provides thousands of meals every day for regional NHS hospitals and charities caring for the homeless. Volunteer roles for pre-existing organisations who need support can be found on Volunteer Wessex, Community First’s dedicated volunteering website:
Community First CEO Tim Houghton said:
While we hope that next year, we can run Volunteers’ Week events out in the community as normal, the extraordinary circumstances this year have shown that an incredible number of people are willing to step forward to help members of their community. The practical and social lifeline provided by volunteers during this time has shown beyond doubt that volunteer support is vital to the well-being of our communities. A lot of people contributing, however they can, really does make a big difference.
Community First has closed new volunteer registration for the COVID-19 response thanks to a humbling uptake from people coming forward across Hampshire. However, there are still local organisations who need your help. If you would like to volunteer to help an organisation, please visit https://volunteerwessex.org. If your organisation needs volunteers, please contact email@example.com.