THE HUNDREDS of people who have given up their time to help others during the coronavirus crisis deserve our thanks and recognition every day – but this week, there’s an extra reason to pay tribute to Leicester’s generous volunteers.
Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June) provides an opportunity to say thank you to the men and women who have been delivering food, dropping off prescriptions, befriending vulnerable neighbours and picking up shopping for those who haven’t been able to get out while Leicester has been in lockdown.
Since the city council teamed up with Voluntary Action LeicesterShire (VAL) on 20 March to ask people to sign up as volunteers, more than 1,200 people have formally registered to volunteer in Leicester – while hundreds more have been informally helping out in their communities.
So far, around 500 people have accepted at least one of the volunteering opportunities offered to them by VAL, helping out with tasks such as food production, food delivery, leafleting, patient transportation, pharmacy pick-ups and shopping.
Kevin Allen-Khimani, VAL’s executive manager for public sector contracts and projects, said: “The response from the Leicester public to our call-out for volunteers was fantastic, with hundreds signing up as soon as our Covid-19 web pages went live in March.
“We want to thank all of the volunteers who are selflessly giving up their time to help their community, but we’re also very grateful for the patience of our volunteers who haven’t been placed in roles yet. It’s important to emphasise that the coronavirus crisis is far from over, and we may be calling on their help in the weeks and months ahead.”
Thanks to the generosity of volunteers, projects that play a crucial role in their local communities have been able to continue.
In Braunstone, for example, the local foodbank scheme had to close temporarily while it was transformed into a doorstep delivery service.
Within a matter of weeks, the new scheme was up and running, helped by volunteers who signed up via the VAL website.
Angie Wright, chief officer at B-Inspired, which runs the Braunstone Foodshare project, said: “Once lockdown was announced, we had to set up a whole new method of working to ensure that food continued to get to the people who needed it most.
“It took us a couple of weeks to organise our new doorstep delivery service, but we did it – and we had a lot of help from volunteers who had signed up through VAL.
“VAL did the recruitment and connected us with a great bunch of people - people who were willing to give their time, and use their car, to deliver our food parcels.
“Now, two months down the line, we’re delivering to about 80 households per week and we’re continuing to support those that were in need before the crisis, as well as those that have fallen into food poverty during this very difficult time.
“Our volunteer drivers have been brilliant: they drop off the parcel and then stand back safely to have a chat with the person to see that they are ok. I believe they are providing a real lifeline for some of our most vulnerable residents in Braunstone.”
Janine is one of five volunteers that help out at the Braunstone Foodshare project each day – and she’s been a volunteer driver since the project started its home delivery service.
“The reason I signed up with VAL in the first place was to do something useful during the Covid-19 crisis,” she said.
“As I’m still working, I didn’t have time for a huge commitment – so when this opportunity came up I jumped at it.
“I’m now volunteering one day a week, doing something really valuable and helping to make sure that people have enough to eat.”
Samantha from Leicester responded to the city council’s call-out for people to volunteer in local care homes, helping to support staff and befriend residents.
After speaking to the council, and after a DBS check had been carried out, Samantha joined the team at Geraint House, which provides personal care and accommodation for people with mental health needs, people with substance misuse issues and younger adults.
“When the lockdown happened, I was made redundant so I signed up to volunteer on the VAL website straight away,” said Samantha.
“Within a couple of weeks, I received a call from the council, asking me what sort of volunteering I was interested in, and – once the necessary checks had been made – I was offered a placement at Geraint House.
“Since the residents cannot now do their normal activities outside of the home, a new face to talk to and engage with for colouring, gardening and baking, for example, brings a welcome relief for the residents themselves and also the care staff.
“Vee, Debbie and all the staff at this particular home are also supportive, kind and very caring – as are the residents to each other. It's just lovely!”
Cllr Rita Patel, assistant city mayor for equalities and special projects, said: “I’d like to thank everyone who responded to the city council’s call-out for volunteers or who stepped forward to support projects in their local community during this difficult time.
“Unfortunately, the coronavirus crisis will be with us for some time, and we will continue to need people to come forward and play their part in the city’s recovery.
“Some of those who volunteered initially will now have returned to work, but we hope that other people who are fit and well and who have a few hours to spare will come forward and offer to help out in their local community.”
Anyone interested in volunteering opportunities now, or in the future, can find out more at valonline.org.uk
Volunteers’ Week takes place from 1 – 7 June every year and it’s a chance to say thank you for the contribution made by millions of volunteers across the UK.