AGE UK Solihull volunteers have been telling their stories of lockdown and the brilliant support they have been offering local older people.
And they have been chosen by Julian Knight MP as this week’s Corona Heroes.
From the start of lockdown, the charity set up new roles of Volunteer Telephone Befrienders, Volunteer Shoppers and Food Delivery Volunteers, with 180 new volunteers joining the charity, and many of the 300 existing volunteers switching to these new roles.
As the charity had to cancel its social clubs, exercise classes and home visits and closed its shops, volunteers haven’t been able to carry on their normal roles. But this hasn’t stopped people helping out, as volunteers have been supporting the clients by phone and with shopping instead.
When older people were asked to self-isolate, the charity was inundated by calls from older people worrying about food supplies, so Director of Services, Lucy Garratt, set up an Emergency Food Bank.
Dan, from Edwardian FC (Rugby Union) was one of many new volunteers who joined to help. “All our rugby training was cancelled, and the team wanted to help out in the community,” said Dan, who set up a WhatsApp group with his team to help deliver food parcels. “It was great to see the smiles on people’s faces when we arrived”. Volunteers also joined Age UK Solihull from Solihull Summerfest, Olton Cricket Club, National Grid, Encore Café, West Midlands Fire Service and SMBC.
Amie from Age UK Solihull was based in the food bank and said “The volunteers were amazing. Nothing was too much trouble for them! In the first six weeks, we delivered 3000 food parcels.” Grateful residents have been praising the charity, with one saying “Thank you seems to fall short at this time but this has been a godsend”.
During this time, some volunteers needed help themselves. Marian has volunteered for 19 years, making over 700 visits to older people. “Suddenly I became ill, not able to shop for food – no car, no bus and no help – except – wait for it – two angels disguised as Age UK Solihull volunteers delivered two bags of food!”
The Emergency Food Bank closed, and instead clients have been given a Volunteer Shopper from Age UK Solihull or have been referred to Helping Hands Food Bank. Volunteer Kerry said: “I volunteered as a shopper and delivering pharmacy packages. This kept me busy and kept me sane in the crazy world, it’s been a pleasure. I got to meet lots of different characters, all of which were so grateful. I’ve even kept one 94 year old lady to do weekly shopping for. She calls me ‘dear’ and ‘little one’!”
Sharon feels the same: “I absolutely love it! Age UK Solihull and my clients are extremely appreciative of everything I do.”
Volunteer Jane agrees: “It’s been really lovely and I look forward to it every Tuesday!” Volunteers carried out over 300 shopping visits and collected 100 prescriptions over the first six weeks of lockdown.
Clients have been praising the charity: “Today we received two bags of shopping which almost reduced me to tears. We are so very grateful.”
Normally over 100 Volunteer Befrienders used to visit isolated people every week. This has switched to phone calls, and many new volunteers joined as Telephone Befrienders. Altogether they carried out 900 telephone befriending calls over the first six weeks of lockdown.
Volunteer Rosie says “It’s so rewarding. I have struck up a real rapport with the lady who I chat to. She’s like my second Mum! The calls are a lifeline for our users who are feeling even more isolated and lonely”.
Rosie’s client agrees: “We always end up laughing. I really look forward to her calls”. Tracey says her client appreciates it too: “I love hearing the difference in her voice when she realises it’s me phoning for a chat!”
The client Carmela phones is finding it hard: “I know my client has really been suffering emotionally as a result of the lockdown and so I know that I am making a difference.”
The lady Kerry phones is also struggling: “It’s become apparent that she’s become quite depressed, not seeing anyone other than her carers,” says Kerry. “My phone calls definitely help a little to keep her spirits up and I’m looking forward to being able to visit again.”
Meanwhile, Chantelle from National Grid is co-ordinating a team of colleagues to volunteer with Welfare Check Calls, and said “Age UK Solihull have been so compassionate and caring about our local community.”
While social clubs are closed, volunteers are still supporting clients by phoning those they normally see every week. Volunteer Denis usually helps out at weekly clubs and exercise classes. “I ring clients from the club every week, trying to cheer them up,” he says. I’m lucky I have good support from my family and friends. But of course some of the members have no one. All of them can’t wait to get back to the club”.
Inspired by the charity’s work, volunteers have also been raising much needed funds. Edwardian FC (Rugby Union) set up a fundraising challenge and have raised over £1000 for Age UK Solihull, as did Matt Smith who is running the length of Lands End to John O’Groats in his back garden. He has raised £1120 so far and can be sponsored on: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=MatthewSmith264&pageUrl=1 . Meanwhile, the youngest fundraiser, five year old Benji, raised £1143 doing a sponsored dance online.
Catherine Gulati, Volunteer Co-ordinator at Age UK Solihull, says “We’re grateful to all our volunteers, those helping in lockdown, and those who helped over the year. They are at the heart of all we do.”
Whilst the lockdown has been difficult for many, it has brought out a real community spirit. Steve describes it well: “One upside is that it has provided an opportunity to volunteer more. It’s not only rewarding to do something useful for others, but it also gives me a feeling of worth. VE Day reminded me that my Grandads were often asked “what did you do in the war?” In a few years time, if my granddaughters ask “What did you do in the Covid epidemic?” I will have lots to tell them thanks to AgeUK Solihull.”