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The next blog in this series is looking at how the local Community Hub for Guiseley and Rawdon is working to ensure that the most vulnerable people in the city have access to support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coordinating and delivering this vital service in Guiseley and Rawdon is AVSED (Aireborough Voluntary Services to the Elderly), whose usual work focuses on combating the social isolation of people over 60. The team have risen to this mammoth task and this blog focuses on the people working on the ground to support local residents.
As I arrived at the AVSED offices, on the edge of the lovely Nunroyd Park in Guiseley, I was greeted by the inspirational Molly; an 81-year old Community Care Volunteer whose story we featured for National Volunteers Week. Molly’s infectious smile and warmth makes her the perfect volunteer to be carrying out telephone befriending calls for people who are isolating at this time. Molly tells me, “I usually run the social centre on a Wednesday but now we can’t do that.
“I still wanted to help so AVSED got me doing telephone befriending. I talk to three people every week. Sometimes it’s just 20 minutes having a natter and other times I can be on the phone for an hour.”
Molly’s usual routine and life has been really disrupted and she feels she’s lost a lot of the freedom she had before, but carrying out telephone befriending calls has provided her with some sense of normality. She calls her befriendees every Wednesday, as this was her usual volunteering day before COVID-19; “I sort of knew these people before but not very well.
“One of them said to me the other day ‘before all of this, we were acquaintances but now we’re friends’. Telephone befriending means a lot to people; it might be the only person they speak to that day or that week.”
Molly tells me that volunteering for the last few years has been a real life-line for her, “it’s amazing that I can still help, sometimes people see your age and straight away think that you can’t do things yourself, but AVSED don’t judge anyone and respect everyone. I enjoy talking to people and everyone has stories to tell”.
As a Community Care Volunteer, Molly is one of an army of amazing people who have stepped up to support vulnerable people at this time. I also spoke to Scott, who is new to the idea of formal volunteering but hopes to carry on supporting AVSED in the future. “I not only do her shopping but I have a chat with Anita in her garden to make sure she’s ok as it’s so tough for people right now. I help with whatever she needs really - at the moment I’m looking for a new vacuum belt as hers has broken and I’ve helped do some jobs in the garden.”
When asked how volunteering makes him feel, Scott says it’s not really about him, but it makes him feel good; “I’m happy when I know they“re and that they’ve got their shopping.
“It’s so worthwhile, it’s hard for so many people, but I help where I can. I sleep better at night knowing the people I am supporting are ok.”
During my visit to AVSED I had the opportunity to speak to the lovely Michelle, who is the Volunteer Engagement Officer, and find out how her working life has changed throughout this time, what the impact of this has been and what the future might look like for AVSED.
Before COVID-19 struck, Michelle tells me that the organisation had a really set structure for their activities; their weeks were all planned out with exercise classes, coffee mornings, day trips, social centres and movie clubs. This has all now gone out of the window and the team have had to adapt to new ways of working, new volunteers, new challenges and new issues to tackle within the community.
“It’s been a massive upside down change to everything. We had to adapt, we became the hub, so we’re not only dealing with people we know, but new people over 60 and just anyone who gets referred.
“We’re dealing with stuff we’ve never experienced before. But now we’ve got set days for doing things, ideally all shopping is done on Tuesdays/Thursdays, picking up prescriptions on Wednesdays/Fridays, Monday is a day of whatever it needs to be, then we have Fish ‘n’ Chip Fridays”.
Volunteers from AVSED visit two local fisheries on Friday lunchtimes and deliver up to 60 meals of fish and chips to people in the area.
As well as ensuring vulnerable residents of Guiseley and Rawdon have access to food and medication, AVSED have gone above and beyond to offer further support to local people. Michelle explains; “We’re carrying out 80-90 befriending calls a week, even our minibus driver is doing some befriending calls because he can’t be out with the minibus at the moment.
“We’ve put boredom boxes together - we’ve been inundated with donations for these boxes. People have brought us hundreds of books, boxes decorated full of crafting stuff, everything you can imagine, knitting, crocheting, jigsaws galore. These boxes are going out every day. Beyond the volunteers themselves, the bigger community is looking after us so well, there’s so much good here.”
Through the Community Care Volunteer programme, Michelle tells me that real friendships have blossomed, between volunteers and the people they are supporting. “We’ve got some volunteers shopping for a few couples a week and they’ve actually now built up relationships, one to the point where the volunteer is planning on going round for Christmas dinner. Others have planned to go round for a Sunday roast or go on trips together.”
Following my visit to AVSED, I caught up with Debbie, Project Coordinating Manager, who had astonishingly only started working for the organisation two weeks before lockdown began; I find out how she’s adjusting to a new job and all that comes with being a Community Care Hub.
Debbie explained that everything AVSED do naturally has gone out of the window, they aren’t able to run social groups with lots of face-to-face interaction, “now we’ve gone back to delivering the basics, but in some ways it was good for us to evaluate what we need.
“I’m not sure it matters what groups we run, but that we bring members together in groups. To be honest, the members have shown such resilience. We were thinking we would need to do house calls as people might fall apart. But members have been amazing, they know what they are doing and can cope.
“I’ve done some keep in touch calls myself and they actually ask me how I am and make sure we’ve all got that we need.
“Having the community we have around us has made a huge difference. Anything we ask for they bring it. We put call outs on Facebook of what we need and the next day people go above and beyond to get what we need.
“I’ve never seen the community pull together like this, the amount of people who have come out of the woodwork to help and support us is amazing.”
Looking to the future, Debbie tells me that that they have plans to do doorstep befriending, instead of over the phone; “volunteers are definitely up for it and members are crying out for it. They might not have seen someone in weeks and just want a chat, to have a flask of tea and a biscuit together.”
From conversations with both volunteers and staff at AVSED, the outpouring of community spirit is clear to see. This area of Leeds has been lucky in that they have had more people come forward to volunteer than they needed, such generosity cannot be overestimated.
Post Written by Rebecca Mott
Project Worker at Voluntary Action Leeds