Let’s hear it for volunteers

We celebrate volunteers across the country for Volunteers Week.

volunteers week

by Stephanie Anthony |

We’ve all long known the incredible contribution volunteers make to this country, but particularly after the efforts of countless volunteers during the pandemic, they deserve our especially heartfelt thanks.

Volunteers’ Week (June 1-7) seems a particularly good time to do it.

Thousands of ordinary people gave their time to help others during the pandemic. Meanwhile, many of the millions of existing volunteers who already make a difference week in week out have carried on – or even stepped up – their life-changing work to meet the greater need.

To mark Volunteers Week we wanted to showcase three wonderful volunteers who’ve been doing their bit to make life better for people.

'The need is greater than ever'

food bank
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Every day more than 2,000 food banks around the UK support millions of families living on the breadline. Helping provide this lifeline are many wonderful food bank volunteers including Judith Harvey (65), from Peterborough.

Judith is part of the team at her local Trussell Trust food bank that gives food parcels to those in need.

She says she’s seen a lot of new faces since the pandemic hit, as people have lost their jobs or struggle to cope during furlough. Nevertheless, she says people are always so grateful for the help they can give. “It’s sad that we have to be here but it’s good that I can help,” she says. “Volunteering has also been a nice way for me to get out of the house and see other people.”

In normal times, she adds, many people who receive help from the food bank often are the first to donate food themselves or volunteer once they are back on track. “Food banks just have a good effect all round and it’s great to be able to help make that possible.”

'We allow people to really talk'

Many of us will understand the importance of having someone to listen to us when we’re feeling low, whether that’s chatting to our partner or calling friends.

But for people facing particularly difficult times, or those with no one to talk to, the volunteers at Samaritans have been there to help.

Sue Peart (61) has been a Samaritans volunteer for a year since she left her job.

In that time, Sue’s been used to receiving calls about everything from loneliness to bereavement, mental health challenges to financial difficulties.

Sue is there to be a non- judgmental listening ear. “We allow people to really talk. We don’t skate over the problem or brush it away, we locate the pain and pay attention to it and that can be a tremendous relief for people.”

Sue adds that volunteering during this time has helped give structure to her week. “I find volunteering so uplifting and it’s amazing how just by listening you can help someone move from a moment that was unbearable to the situation feeling bearable.”

'It does my heart good to help'

volunteers
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When Carolyn Metcalfe saw the adverts asking for volunteers to help the NHS in the pandemic, she was initially unsure. “I thought, ‘I bet there will be thousands of people who volunteer, they don’t want me’, but later I realised that if everyone had that attitude no one would volunteer, so I went for it.”

In her role as one of the 600,000 NHS Volunteer Responders recruited, Carolyn was fetching shopping and prescriptions for several people who are shielding from the virus.

“Some of the people I’ve been helping have been very scared, but they’ve been so grateful to get help,” says Carolyn (55). She’s also been phoning people who are at risk of loneliness and isolation. “It’s lovely to just chat and if they're feeling down, I try to chivvy them along.

“I’m not going to save the world doing what I’m doing, but it gives me a great sense of achievement that does my heart good.”

While this is the first time Carolyn has done voluntary work, she says the experience has made her keen to do more. “I hope to continue to help people.”

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