Volunteer Week: AVSED – Community Hub Spotlight
The Community Hub Spotlight series looks at how individual local Community Hubs are servicing the 33 wards of Leeds to ensure that the most vulnerable people in the city have access to support during the coronavirus pandemic.
Over 8,000 Leeds residents registered as Community Care Volunteers last year in response to the coronavirus crisis. Voluntary Action Leeds and Leeds City Council set up the programme, which matches volunteers with vulnerable people in need of help with a range of tasks – from shopping deliveries to dog walking. To make this possible, a network of 27 local third sector organisations were established known as ‘Community Hubs’. These organisations are delivering the volunteer programme locally, across all 33 wards in Leeds.
The following interview took place around the time of the first lockdown last year. Debbie had recently started her job as Project Coordinating Manager at AVSED, which is the Community Hub that has been supporting the Guiseley and Rawdon.
How has your work situation changed?
It’s completely turned upside down. Everything we naturally do is gone; bringing people together, social interaction, had to close groups. There was no period of loss because we were thrown straight into the emergency stuff. Members lost everything. We’ve gone from face-to-face friendship groups, getting out of the house, to staying at home and being brought shopping. How do we go back to normal?
Now we’re doing boredom busting boxes. It’s Difficult to rethink what we do. We have gone back to basics. In some ways it was good for us to evaluate what we need.
Community Care Volunteer, Sharon, walking Merlin
What is the history of your Community Hub?
I only started one week before COVID-19 broke out. I saw two groups and then lockdown happened. Completely mad. It has been ok because all the staff are in it together and no one knew what the next weeks would be like. We are all in the same boat. Thrown in the deep end and helping in a crisis.
Becoming a Community Care Hub has been excellent.
What have been the challenges of the community care volunteer programme?
We thought, “how do we do what we are being asked to do?” We are not used to providing food or emergency supplies. But local people have been amazing with donations. We put call outs on social media and are inundated.
It’s been challenging working out how to manage a new influx of volunteers – 200 new people. Volunteers that you cannot meet and do inductions with or find out about them. The biggest challenge now, as weeks go on is mental health is getting people down. Members are asking when they can go back to social groups. We don’t have the answers to the questions. No idea when we can get back to “normal”.
How can we tackle expectations, answer difficult questions and give hope to people? We’re not fully geared up as a mental health service, which is something we want to think about going forward.
Community Care Volunteer, Janet, delivering prescriptions
What does a normal week at a Community Hub entail?
We divide the week up. We were fire fighting in the beginning, flying by seat of our pants, dealing with each day as it came.
Now we have some structure – Mondays are when we take stock and plan for the week ahead and get exercise packs out. Tuesdays/Thursdays are shopping days and Wednesdays/Fridays are prescription pickups and drop offs. Fish and Chips are delivered on Fridays, we made 44 deliveries last week.
We don’t have facilities for hot meals, so we do fish and chips instead. People have loved it. It’s a bit of normality, the small things make a difference. We were doing fish and chip Friday before lockdown and it made sense to continue – we’ve adapted it so instead of sending two volunteers to one fish shop, we now send 4 volunteers to two fish shops to make it easier and more manageable.
How has managing volunteers during the COVID-19 crisis made you feel?
Very strange. AVSED was all brand new to me anyway. To be honest, the members have shown such resilience. We were thinking we would need to do house calls as people might fall apart. 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 what we need. There’s a huge difference in the community we have had around to support us, anything we ask for, they bring it. We put call outs on Facebook for what we need and the next day people go above and beyond to get what we need. 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.
Community Care Volunteers, Carol and Joey, picking up and delivering fish and chips
What’s your message for anyone thinking about volunteering and what are your hopes for after COVID-19?
It’s the best thing that you can do. One day I might need some help and I would hope that someone is there.
In the times we’re in now, we’ve got more than someone else might have and we should do what we can to help people who need it.
I used to volunteer, so I’ve seen what a difference it makes. I’m privileged to be paid for what I do. I can give a bit extra, do a little bit more. Just try it. Giving someone an hour a month makes such a difference. It goes a long way. We’ve got 200 volunteers, who give at least an hour each, that’s 200 hours and it makes the world of difference.
What learning has occurred due to the current situation?
We now know we can do a shopping service, but would members want this going forward. Never dipped into mental health stuff before, but we’ll need to help people transition back into normal life.
We normally do physical things, groups, trips, social interaction, but it’s been the little things that make such a difference; making a phone call has meant so much to people. Staff have spent longer out and about, having chats with members, but people need this and it helps so much.
We have plans to do doorstep befriending – people want some face to face contact and a chat. Every single person who gets a delivery also wants a chat. They might not have seen someone in weeks or had the chance to have a chat. Through the window/on the doorstep, a flask of tea and a biscuit together. Volunteers are definitely up for it and members are crying out for it.
Volunteer Christine sorting donations
Volunteers can offer practical support for vulnerable people (such as shopping deliveries, preparing meals, making check-in phone calls) or can sign-up as an informal volunteer to help within their own neighbourhood in more general ways. The Leeds City Council helpline is available so that people in need of support can call 0113 378 1877 to be matched with a local volunteer who can help.
The Community Care Volunteering Programme is not currently accepting applications from new volunteers but there are still lots of other volunteering opportunities available in Leeds. To find out more, please visit https://doinggoodleeds.org.uk/i-want-to-volunteer/