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Age UK Solihull volunteers have been telling their stories of lockdown for National Volunteers Week. During the coronavirus pandemic, 180 volunteers joined the charity, inspired to help out with shopping, food delivery and befriending. Meanwhile, many of the 300 existing volunteers have taken on new roles, although they’re feeling the isolation, missing the friends and clients they used to see every week.

During lockdown, we have had to cancel social clubs, exercise classes and home visits, and we closed our shops and most of our offices.  This meant almost all volunteers stopped their normal roles although many now have new roles. Volunteers over 70 were asked to self-isolate. Meanwhile, we were inundated by calls from older people worrying about food supplies, so Director of Services, Lucy Garratt, set up an Emergency Food Bank (left).

Dan, from Edwardian FC (Rugby Union) was one of many new volunteers who joined to help (right). “All our training was cancelled, and the team wanted to help out in the community,” said Dan, who set up a WhatsApp group to help deliver food parcels. “It was great to see the smiles on people’s faces when we arrived”. Volunteers also came 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 6 weeks, we delivered 3,000 food parcels.

We've received many grateful comments from residents:

 

During this time, some volunteers needed help themselves, including Marian, who has volunteered for us for 19 years, making over 700 visits to older people: 

The Emergency Food Bank is now closed, as all clients have been given a Volunteer Shopper or referred to Helping Hands Food Bank. There are now around 30 shoppers, including Kerry, who says, “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.” Volunteer Shopper, Jane, feels the same, saying, "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 6 weeks of lockdown, and it's fantastic to hear how much they enjoy it.

We received more grateful comments:

Normally over 100 Volunteer Befrienders visit isolated people every week. This has switched to telephone calls, and many new volunteers joined as Telephone Befrienders. Altogether they carried out 900 befriending calls over the first six weeks of lockdown

Rosie’s client agrees, saying, We always end up laughing. I really look forward to her calls”.

Tracey says her client appreciates it too:

Kerry's phone calls make a big difference to her client:The client Carmela phones has also been finding it hard:   

Meanwhile, Chantelle (right) 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.”

Whilst our social clubs are closed, volunteers are still supporting clients. Volunteer Denis (left) 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”.

Denis is missing the social side of volunteering, as is Martin (right), a Volunteer Driver for the exercise classes: The friendly team make all the clients and volunteers feel very welcome. Since lockdown I immediately missed taking the clients to classes every week and the company of other volunteers as we shared stories over a coffee.”

Inspired by the charity’s work, volunteers have also been raising much needed funds. Edwardian FC (Rugby Union) set up a fundraising challenge, as did Matt Smith (left) who ran the length of Land’s End to John O’Groats in his back garden.

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 and are unable to do so now. 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 Age UK Solihull.”