Volunteer case studies

Find below feedback and stories from a collection of volunteers working across Mid and South Essex.

Volunteer coordinator Liz Hiscock wants to encourage everyone to ‘just do it’ and join the fight against COVID-19.

Like many people in early 2020, Liz Hiscock was becoming increasing concerned at the news coming from other countries about COVID-19. Her thoughts started to focus on the impact on those around her, especially her local community and how difficult this time would be for many older and vulnerable residents in her home village of Danbury, Chelmsford.

Recently retired, Liz wanted to do something and because of her past experience in nursing and other health-related jobs, she knew she could help.

Liz said: ‘I’ve always had a passion for helping others, and for health and wellbeing. I’ve volunteered all my adult life in one way or another. When my husband retired, we decided to have a gap year for travel and were planning to extend it when the pandemic hit, so it was the perfect time for me to step up!’

At the beginning of March 2020 she approached Mandy Hessing (parish councillor) about setting up a group to support her local community. They were kindly offered the use of the St John’s Meeting Rooms and were up and running in time for the first lockdown. After the initial day-to-day tasks such as shopping and prescription collections eased, the group facilitated other community projects. These included a sewing group which were making scrubs when most needed, a telephone befriending service, an initiative to ‘Get Danbury Walking’ and a Young Volunteers group who helped clear a local care home’s garden.

The volunteer group have moved from strength to strength and have subsequently become an essential part of the local vaccination programme at Danbury Medical Centre.

Liz said: ‘We already had our database of volunteers, a Facebook page, a website and a huge amount of goodwill in the village. We had also worked closely with Danbury Medical Centre throughout the pandemic, so offering them support with the role out of local vaccinations was a natural progression.’

Liz’s experience of co-ordinating the volunteering at the vaccination centre has been a challenging but hugely rewarding experience. At times it is a complex task, but she always tries to make sure it is a positive experience and show appreciation for the support of her dedicated team of helpers.

Reflecting on the whole experience Liz said: ‘It’s been an exceptionally busy period in my life. The housework has been neglected and I’ve barely managed to finish a book in a year. However, it’s been of the most positive and rewarding experiences of my life! I feel privileged to live in a community focused village and to have met so many likeminded people, some of whom I expect will become long lasting friends. What would I say to other people who might be thinking about volunteering to support the vaccination programme?   Just do it!’.

Mandy Hessing is no stranger to the trials and tribulation of being an active Danbury Parish Councillor, but as a retired Histopathology Lab Scientific Officer Assistant and with two adult children Mandy wanted to give something back to her neighbours.  Her local community is important to her, whether it walking with her dogs and seeing what’s going on in our village on a daily basis, or just being around people. It keeps her busy and has given her an invaluable insight and understanding of the needs of resident and the Council’s projects.

This knowledge and understanding became critical when the COVID-19 crisis hit last year. It was during one of the Danbury Parish Council’s health & wellbeing committee meetings on the 12 March 2020 that Mandy had, what turned out to be a pivotal conversation for the whole community. Along with fellow members Dr Caroline Dollery, Beacon Health Group, Danbury Medical Centre (DMC) partner and retired nurse Liz Hiscock, they decided to mobilise as the shocking COVID-19 headline news about the impending lockdown began to sink in.

Mandy said: ‘While it wasn’t suggested by the Government that communities needed to start preparing for the this, Mandy and Liz felt that they needed to act quickly. That evening they opened a Danbury Coronavirus Volunteer Group on Facebook, as we recognised that they would need volunteers to enable our idea to go forward’.

The response from the community was phenomenal, Mandy said: ‘Overnight we had over 100 residents join stating they wanted to help over the coming week and over 400 more joining, many just wanting to have access to local information.’

Initially they set up two phonelines that were manned seven days a week, as well as creating a local leaflet that provided key information on online ordering from local businesses, NHS Direct, Local Doctor Surgery and the two helpline numbers.

They also started to organise the volunteer’s service, but while they were not ‘bound’ in red tape they did find it challenging at times. Although, it was this flexibility that enabled them to design the process how they thought best, while tapping into the array of talents and skills of their volunteers, and taking advice from CVS Chelmsford about training and insurance.

Mandy said: ‘We wanted to help all of our community especially the most vulnerable and susceptible to catching COVID-19 if exposed to the virus. For instance, at Christmas we realise that for many would be unable to buy food over Christmas, so we organised for Christmas dinners to be delivered to some of our most vulnerable neighbours. This including two elderly brothers who live on their own and wouldn’t have had a tradition Christmas lunch if it wasn’t for the volunteers. It meant so much to them, as they said “the last time we had a dinner like that was from our mum’’.’

For Mandy the experience has been transformative, she said: ‘It’s amazing to be part of something that’s life changing for everyone. I would recommend anyone thinking of volunteering to sign up or start your own group – keeping it small and local to your community.

While it’s been challenging Mandy sees it as a good experience, she said: ‘Oh gosh yes, it’s been a positive, definitely! I’ve meet so many wonderful people which I know some will be life-long friends. Being a lead on the vaccination roll out at Danbury Medical Centre and helping to facilitate in excess of 25k vaccines as well as organising our volunteers for their shifts is really heart-warming, and bringing a community together – not sure I can make it any better! As a community I know we can pull together if we have too. It’s a life changer for everyone to be a part of something so huge across the world, Country and your community, not only to give back a lifeline to the most shielded, but to know you have been a part of something that not everyone can do is purely amazing’.

Emily’s volunteering story – Virtual volunteering helped me improve my CV and my help my community

Volunteering was something that I was really excited about for a long time, but I couldn’t find the right opportunity to suit my interests. Since the pandemic, it has been a lot harder to find volunteering roles due to the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

After a lot of searching, I was really lucky to find a virtual role that suited me perfectly! I took on the role of Social Media Researcher for Brentwood Basildon and Wickford Volunteer network. I spend a couple of hours per week searching for news stories of interest, local events, charity information etc. I then compile these and send them over, so that they can be shared or added to the community connections magazine.

I was interested in this role because I am quite familiar with social media and I thought it would be a good idea to get to know better what sort of things were occurring in the area. I also liked the fact that I could help to raise awareness for particular charity events that might not get as much recognition usually, due to them being quite small, or only based in the local area.

Usually I dedicate one evening per week to collate all of the information. I like to do this either on Monday or Tuesday evenings, because I noticed that new events are usually publicised around this time and enables me to collect a good amount of information, for example, if it is a particular awareness week that can be shared accordingly.

I started volunteering, as I was actively looking for work and thought that volunteering would be useful to boost my cv and help me get a job, and after two months into starting to volunteer, I started a job at a law firm in London.

I have learnt so much about the local community, as well as getting to meet really lovely people that do some very important work! I would recommend volunteering to anyone looking for informal experience to boost their CV. Employers were very interested in my volunteering experience and I believe it was one of the contributing factors that helped me land my new job!

BBCVS Volunteer Jenny on the ups and downs of COVID that led her to volunteering

I was commuting into London until 17 March 2020.  Many offices had started letting employees work from home already, but I held out as along as possible; the city was very much looking like a ghost town at that point. Looking back now and seeing how the spike in London was so far ahead of the rest of the country, I realise how prevalent it already was in London at that time and the weeks prior.

As soon as we went into lockdown, I started getting shopping for my elderly neighbour and her prescriptions, and offered my help on volunteering schemes & Facebook groups.

Then in Easter 2020 my Dad came down with COVID. There’d been an outbreak in the care home where my step mum was working and she caught it there.  They were both very poorly and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so scared.  Thankfully both are ok, but it took some time to recover.  My sister and family then had COVID at the end of last year as have a number of friends, so COVID isn’t something that doesn’t seem real like I’ve heard some people say who’ve not known people to have it or be affected by it.

In the summer months, when restrictions were lifted to some degree, I was allowed into the office once a week for a few weeks, which was great. London seemed to be just coming back to life, just as, sadly, we entered tier four and then lockdown.  I’ve always benefited from working from home one day a week, but it’s nearly a year now of almost full time working from home.  My desk in the bedroom isn’t ideal and I miss people contact and the office banter. It does feel more isolated being at home and there is no clear break between work and home.

As well as the gym and golf, I miss meals out and socialising and just basic interaction with people.  This latest lockdown has been harder and so many people have said that.  I’ve found I can be very up and down and it is also harder to be motivated, and there is a fatigue.  The big difference this lockdown. Is that we had the vaccination programme to give us hope.

I’m so proud of the country’s vaccination development and vaccination programme and I just knew I wanted to help if could.  It’s giving people hope and a path to our lives being back to normal and having those long-awaited hugs.

I signed up with BBW Volunteer Network and got my first shift on a cold and rainy Saturday.  It was slightly chaotic with long queues of people, but it was still something amazing to be part of. Since then I’ve done a number of weekday evening shifts after work and weekends, including an evening when it was -3 with snow still around, the vaccine hadn’t been delivered to the centre and we had to turn people away. Definitely one of the more challenging shifts, but only the minority of people showed their anger/disappointment, overall people are supportive and grateful.

I thoroughly enjoy my time volunteering and find it so rewarding. I love getting to talk to people and assisting them and seeing such joy, even excitement, in people getting the vaccine.  During the early shifts, where it was the older age groups and more vulnerable, we were talking to people who had not left the house for nearly a year. It was amazing and did remind me that my lockdown has not been as bad as it has for others. On a couple of occasions, I’ve been given chocolates/sweets as a thank you, or random act of kindness, and I find it so touching

Some people need physical help, others are nervous and need reassurance, many just need to be greeted and advised where to go.  I love the people that wave as they leave and for that small period of time you’ve been part of their life and they’re grateful.

As well as helping others and giving up my time, it has given me purpose, to be part of something and much needed interaction with people, including the other volunteers and centre staff.

COVID-19 has disrupted everyone’s life in some way, but for young people it’s meant interrupting their education at a time when they are starting to build the foundations for their future careers.

This was just the case for 18-year-old Lexie Lawrence who was in her first-year of her undergraduate history degree at the University of Nottingham, when after first-years exams were cancelled in January due to COVID-19 and her lessons postponed, she decided to return home to Danbury.

Once back at home she wanted to do something meaningful with her free time and after seeing lots of opportunities advertised on the Danbury Corona Virus Volunteer Group Facebook page, she decided apply to volunteer via their online application form.

Lexie said: ‘I ended up with an awful lot of time on my hands and decided to make myself useful in some way. Danbury has recently become a medical hub in the area with our newly-built medical centre and with the vaccine rollout, lots of help was needed, so after reading the lovely messages on the Facebook page from those grateful for our support, I decided to volunteer.

She thought that she has nothing to lose and so much to gain from volunteering especially as our healthcare workers need our help to get the vaccine rolled out as quickly as possible to save as many lives as we can, as well as keeping the NHS afloat.

From what has been a worrying time for Lexie and many other students in her situation, being able to help those that are vulnerable find hope in gaining their freedom back has been proved to be an uplifting and humbling experience.

She said: ’For many of the patients, this was their first social interaction outside of their household since March last year, so seeing their excitement following their jab was so heart-warming.’

Through the summer Lexie was able to give her time freely, however since her courses restarting in the autumn the last few weeks have become more difficult as she is doing volunteering shifts around university work, often using her shifts as a break from work and an excuse to get out into the fresh air.   Looking to the future for Lexie this has been a transformative experience, which has encouraged her to continue volunteering.

She said: ‘I’ve met some amazing people throughout this journey while helping with the programme, who are nothing but kind and considerate of other people and have made me feel so welcome. It has really has made me realise how important selfless acts of kindness are from the public especially at this time of crisis.’

The COVID-19 crisis has brought together people from many walks of life, in ways that’s permanently changed them and help forge lifelong relationships.

One of those people is David Turner who only moved to Danbury a couple of years ago, but through his volunteering he met new people, made friends and become a part of his community. David’s been retired for about two years having worked for nearly 40 years’ in Financial Services and latterly over five years in a Local Authority management, giving him time to help out.

David has been volunteering for nearly 12 months since the pandemic first started, as he wanted to step-up and do something to help the fight against the virus.

He said: ‘Initially I signed up for the NHS Volunteer Service, but as very little work requests came through I decided to join the Danbury Coronavirus Volunteers, as I wanted to help my local community in any way I could’.

At first David was on the Helpline at the Danbury hub, but he soon took over the weekly production of community work rotas, but when then vaccination roll out began, he started working at the vaccination centre on the logistics of changing the configuration of the car park, as well as being a Car Park Steward and organising the stewards’ rotas. Danbury are fortunate to have a breadth of skilled and knowledgeable people volunteering which they were able to utilise effectively, especially when they started to deal with ever larger number of people turning up for vaccinations.

David said: ‘We’ve now identified another volunteer who’s very experienced in temporary traffic control, so I supported him in arranging suitable car parking arrangements. I also assisted in the production of the rotas and took the role as Lead Car Park Steward for each shift, as well as liaise with the medical centre staff.’

David’s wants to encourage people to not hold back, to get involved and volunteer, he said: ‘Just do it. It’s so easy to join and so very rewarding. People have lots of different skills and knowledge to offer in different ways and collectively they can help make a difference.

I do feel very privileged to be able to help and support my local community in this way. Seeing lots of smiling people after they have had their vaccination is very satisfying and worthwhile, as well as the satisfied looks on the other volunteers as they also help their local community makes it so worthwhile’.