From collecting prescriptions, walking dogs to just being free to have a chat – an army of volunteers in St Helens Borough have been making a difference to those in need during the coronavirus outbreak.
More than 700 people took up the call for support when St Helens Together launched in March with the help of Halton and St Helens Voluntary and Community Action and have been supporting people in their local community ever since.
Billy is one of those who signed up to volunteer and has urged others to follow in his footsteps.
He said: “I began to volunteer with the mindset of helping the most vulnerable during this pandemic, and to try and encourage others to do the same. My own mum is 74, disabled and living on her own, putting her in the high-risk bracket. To think that others in a similar situation to her and didn’t have anyone to help with shopping or just a five-minute chat and a friendly face to see, is my worst nightmare.
“In my role at work, I am also the charity champion for a well-known organisation, and we have raised a considerable amount of funds to support this charity. It has been so different volunteering, as I’m not donating my time to raise cash, I’m donating my time to volunteer and it’s been overwhelming to see how greatly appreciated it is by just by donating my time.”
He is regularly supporting around 10 to 15 people who can get in touch with him if they need anything.
“I wished I could help more, but I am a keyworker myself with a family and I’m also a carer for my mother. So this really means I am on the go seven days a week. It’s always hard to say no when a call comes in as I know its appreciated. The most satisfying part of this, is when I’m sat at home of an evening with my family, enjoying a cooked meal, I’m happy knowing that other people are doing the same, thanks to me. I would strongly recommend that others volunteer, the rewarding experience is amazing.”
For Sarah having signed up for a number of national initiatives but not hearing back – when she heard the appeal on the radio for St Helens Together she didn’t hesitate.
She said: “In normal circumstances I would probably have convinced myself that I didn’t have time or energy to contribute. But it’s rewarding to think I have made an effort and there may be a chance of continuing that aid, to a degree, even when life returns to normal.
“I began by picking up a foodbank delivery and now I walk a couple of dogs every day. Beautiful dogs – some lovely days and also drenched days with Angel and Cocoa. Hopefully I can keep this up for the client until she can take over or no longer requires the help.
“My client says it helps her, and though it wasn’t expected – a lovely bunch of flowers now decorates my mantelpiece as a thank you.”
When Jade’s workplace temporarily closed and she helped to donate their left over food to charities she realised the demand for help was there so signed up to St Helens Together.
She said: “I have found this experience to be invaluable. The ICANELP app is easy and efficient to use, making it simple to choose opportunities as and when I am available and based on proximity. Prior to signing up, I found some days with no employment I was lacking in motivation as I am a very sociable person who likes to keep busy.
“I currently walk two dogs every other day and make regular shopping trips for multiple households. Both dogs are the other side of St Helens from where I live so I have been regularly walking around seven miles, which has been a fantastic way to keep active while I wait to go back to work.
“Georgie, who is recovering from pulled muscles in his legs has come on leaps and bounds and 14 walks later is much quicker on his feet and now very energetic for a little 12-year-old Westie. Bruno the bull mastiff has a brain tumour but is a giant softie who will be seven on Wednesday and greets me in the most enthusiastic way every time I see him. As if walking and spending time with these gorgeous pups wasn’t reward enough, the best part of this is building rapport with their owners and being able to have a catch up or nip to the shops and pick up whatever they need.
“I have met some wonderful people and the interactions, although brief, are sometimes the highlight of my day, meeting new people and learning about their lives and just having someone else to talk to! I like to think this benefits them in the same way too!”
Councillor David Baines, Leader of St Helens Council, said: “Billy, Sarah and Jade, along with hundreds of other people like them across St Helens Borough, have been a vital part of our response to coronavirus. This spirit of support for others is something that shows our communities are filled with amazing people who are going above and beyond to help others.
“Hearing their stories shows just how rewarding volunteering can be and the benefits it brings are far wider that just simply to the person they help. New friendships are being made, and the positive impact of this will continue long beyond this pandemic.
“I want to say thank you to every person who, like Billy, Sarah and Jade, has offered to support others through this crisis. My sincere and heartfelt thanks also go to HSHVCA who have been vital in helping us match volunteers with those in need.”
Claire Redford-Kerr, volunteer lead at HSHCVA, added: “We have been blown away by the number of people keen to volunteer to help in this crisis seeing an unprecedented number sign up on our Volunteering Portal in such a short time. The support of our Volunteer Centre team has been central to connecting those in need with those who could support them quickly either individually or through other groups and organisations. Hearing the gratitude of those that are self-isolating shows the help and selflessness of volunteers makes all the difference. There is no doubt that there will be a significant change in how people volunteer in the future.”
If you would like to find out more about volunteering or need help call St Helens Together on 01744 676767.