After being furloughed at the start of lockdown in March 2020, I found myself on a ‘go-slow’ with more time on my hands than usual, so I signed up as an NHS volunteer and responded to Cheshire East Council’s appeal for volunteers.
I was then asked to undertake shopping tasks and deliver medication to vulnerable and elderly people in Nantwich. Liz Parkin and Clare Hoy coordinated these referrals from Cheshire East’s ‘People Helping People'. The group of volunteers helping Nantwich residents became known as the Buddies and my tasks gathered pace as I supported up to eight clients at one stage, as well as a couple of friends. This became part of my routine until I was back at work in September 2020.
As we entered lockdown in January 2021, I took on Buddies roles at the vaccination centre in the Civic Hall, Nantwich. This has continued to the present day and the work has involved assisting at the car park, meeting and greeting, temperature testing, cleansing chairs and guiding clients through the centre. I was also assigned a one-off shopping task in January and I took on the role of befriending a gentleman who lives alone.
Volunteering as a Buddy has given me a sense of purpose and it has helped to boost my self-esteem throughout the difficult time of Covid-19. It was a pleasure to chat to my clients before shopping and then arriving at their homes to deliver their groceries or medication to brighten up their day. It also helped to overcome their loneliness and probably improve their overall health. It took a couple of minutes to drop off their essentials, but the doorstep chatter would sometimes last 20 minutes, if not longer. Whether they lived alone or with someone else, they always appreciated a good natter, as we often put the world to rights.
One of my elderly clients, who lived through the Second World War, said that life was worse during the pandemic in some ways. She often felt like a prisoner in her home under lockdown. At least in wartime she could go out and about and mix with people.
Another client had a sense of guilt when I delivered his shopping. He was caring for his wife due to her poor health and he was staying at home to protect her, despite being reasonably healthy himself. It took him a few weeks before he stopped apologising for putting me in so much trouble.
One gentleman who I support lives on his own and has just turned 90 years of age, he’s also a talented pianist. Whenever I turn up with his medication, we chat at length and then he tells me that he's learnt a new tune on his piano. I’m then asked to be his 'doorstep' audience. How lucky am I to be offered live entertainment during lockdown I thought! Much to the gentleman’s pleasure I showed my appreciation with a round of applause and told him that I was so looking forward to another performance on my next visit. It made his day (and mine)!
On the week leading up to VE Day in May 2020, we handed out jars of Mrs Darlington’s jam to our clients. Sarah Darlington, who donated the jams, would have been so thrilled to see the look of joy when they were given their pot of jam. It was the perfect tonic at this time of uncertainty.
Volunteering as part of a team at the vaccination centre has been another rewarding experience. People looking apprehensive about the jab, and some nervously venturing out of their houses for the first time in many months were soon put at ease with the chatter, banter and support of the volunteers. This was followed with a flood of compliments - It’s such a smooth operation - You’re all doing a fantastic job - Well done to you all - You are all a credit to this town…etc…etc.
It’s always satisfying to help others, especially in a time of crisis. Making a positive difference in people’s lives is rewarding in itself, but when they show their gratitude by shoving a can of Guinness or a bag of sweets in your direction or by simply saying ‘thank you so much’ means a great deal. One client persisted in giving me some petrol money, but I insisted that I couldn’t take anything. So we compromised, and he happily donated to the Wingate Centre as a way of sponsoring my son, who was taking part in a fundraising bike ride for the charity.
I’ve also had opportunities to learn new skills having joined the Buddies, we’ve had various speakers passing on their expertise, via Zoom. Training programmes have also been available via the Buddies website and help and guidance was always on hand if any difficult situations cropped up.
My top tip on being a volunteer is that our Buddies logo is a smiley face, so when Buddies are on duty, keep a smile on your face - mask or no mask!
The experience of being a Buddy has been a way of serving the community positively. Pulling together to help the cause has also helped me to stay on track and feel valued as we journeyed through the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, in my role as a Buddy, it’s been pleasing to meet people from all walks of life, make friends and play a vital part in improving community spirit.
Gareth doing some of his clients shopping on a sunny day outside Morrisons