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Volunteering at New Wortley Community Centre – a hive of activity during lockdown and beyond

There has been a hive of activity taking place at New Wortley Community Centre, with support from volunteers since people started shielding prior to the lockdown, writes Josie Armitage.

About 8,000 volunteers signed up to be Community Care volunteers through Voluntary Action Leeds as they wanted to help out during Covid-19. Around 112 of these have been supporting the work in Armley and Wortley, which has been co-ordinated through New Wortley Community Centre.

Volunteers have been supporting people through social isolation by befriending them through regular phone chats to make sure they are ok and providing support where needed. They have been delivering food parcels, medication and shopping to those who have been shielding or are struggling financially. They have been providing a weekly hot meal service to those who have been shielding.

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As well as volunteers from the local community, the Leeds Rhinos and the Leeds Rhinos Foundation have been working hard to provide this support.

I have been volunteering since April, firstly dropping off food parcels and doing some shopping for local people. Since 23rd April, I have been volunteering at New Wortley Community Centre every Thursday helping with the hot meals service.

Josie Armitage in action

I have been doing a variety of duties including washing up, dishing out the hot meals and getting them ready for the volunteers who have been delivering them. Other activities have included putting food parcels together and photocopying and folding leaflets about the hot meals service ready for distribution.

I have been made welcome from the start by Barry Dalby, Andrea Edwards, Rebecca Houlding and Andrea McKenna (the Chair of Trustees). I feel very much part of the Thursday team, working with Tanya Marshall who has returned from furlough to the Centre to manage the re-opening of the Café@40.

I wanted to volunteer as I needed some structure to my day after being furloughed from my part-time role.

I felt a bit lost not going to work and struggled with motivation and not having a job to do. I had my own part time business to fall back on which has kept me increasingly busy as the lockdown has gone on.

I support charities, community organisations and social enterprises with their fundraising, finding funding opportunities, writing funding applications and providing advice and support.

I also found that going to the Centre on Thursdays was the only time I was leaving the house, apart from dropping my dad’s shopping round to him on a weekly basis.
I looked forward to going out and being with other people on a Thursday morning and still do.

Volunteers have been supporting people through social isolation by befriending them through regular phone chats to make sure they are ok and providing support where needed. 

They have been delivering food parcels, medication and shopping to those who have been shielding or are struggling financially.  They have been providing a weekly hot meal service to those who have been shielding.

Enough from me …  I interviewed other volunteers about their experiences.

Victoria Kortekaas, Volunteer co-ordinator

Victoria Kortekaas.

What has been your role?  What has this involved?

I am the Volunteer Coordinator for the Community Care volunteers who carry out a range of activities including collecting and delivering food parcels, go shopping and befriend people by phone.  Referrals come through from the Leeds City Council Helpline and I phone each person, double check the information I have been given and match them with a volunteer to support them. I collate all the information for our area.  I have been working from home throughout.

At one point we were receiving up to 16 referrals a day and had 112 new volunteers working with us.  I keep the volunteers up to date with information and check to see that that they are still available to help out.  Many are now returning to work.

How did you get involved?

I’m the Volunteer Coordinator for New Wortley Community Centre.  Usually we have about 16 volunteers with 4-5 being regular.  I support the volunteers with training and make sure that they have up to date information.

What’s been the best thing about this role?

What we’re doing at New Wortley is really important and has had a massive impact on peoples’ lives.  It’s been a lifeline for people who’ve been shielding or lost their jobs.  It’s rewarding and important for the community.  I get to chat to lovely people and know that chatting to them makes their day better and makes my day better.

We’ve had great support from the Leeds City Council PEAK team, the Leeds Rhinos and the Leeds Rhinos Foundation.  Andrea (Edwards) and Becky (Rebecca Houlding) have been great, leading the work and keeping it all going. I am so glad I have been able to do something useful.

What are the challenges?

I’ve had to deal with people in crisis which has been wearing on my own mental health.  Some calls have been very challenging. 

How long do you think it will continue?

There are still a small group of people who can’t go out and need our support.  There are more people needing support as they are losing their jobs or have mental health issues as an impact of the current situation.  There will be an increased need if we have a second wave in the winter.

Do you need any more volunteers?

We always need volunteers!  People can sign up to be a volunteer at: https://doinggoodleeds.org.uk/i-want-to-volunteer/

Community Care Volunteers

I also interviewed three Community Care volunteers who have been doing great work supporting the vulnerable in the community.

Volunteer Jo Foster

Jo Foster

What volunteering have you been doing for New Wortley Community Centre? 

I have been making weekly welfare calls to people who were self-isolating, checking how they are doing and chatting and keeping them connected with the outside world! I have delivered food parcels as and when required. I have also made regular medication deliveries and collected emergency medication for people self-isolating. 

What were you doing before Covid-19?

I work for the charity Carers Leeds supporting carers health and wellbeing. 

How did you get involved in volunteering?

When I was sent home from work at the start of lockdown and told we should expect to be at home for approximately three months, I realised I wound have an awful lot of spare time! I saw an advert/request for people with DBS checks to get involved and I knew I had to do something.

What do you enjoy about volunteering?

It has given me a real sense of purpose and structure during a time when I could have really struggled.  My usual routine of getting up and ready for work and then commuting was replaced  by a walk from my bedroom to my laptop in the kitchen! It would have been far too easy for me to laze around in my pyjamas all day and lose all sense of time! 

I have really enjoyed getting to know the people I’ve supported regularly.  It has been nice to share the bewilderment of the situation with others. And we’ve usually managed to find something to laugh about. I have liked feeling useful. 

Will you continue to volunteer post Covid-19? 

 I am happy to continue with whatever is needed. But I am especially keen to keep up with the welfare calls. Whilst all I can offer to people is a voice at the end of a phone, we have shared such a weird/scary/strange experience that I would like to stay in touch and would be sad for it to end 

Rhea Butler

Volunteer Rhea Butler

What volunteering have you been doing for New Wortley Community Centre? 

I have been delivering food parcels to people and shopping for residents.  To start with, this was nearly every day.  Now it’s two-three times a week.

What were you doing before Covid-19?

I left a full time role in administration in February with the plan to find another job as there were plenty around.  Then Covid-19 hit. 

How did you get involved in volunteering?

When lockdown started, I had to do something.  It was the opportunity for me to get out and help others who couldn’t go out.  I signed up for the government volunteer scheme and got involved in making phone calls to people for a short while.  I preferred the opportunity to meet people face to face.

What do you enjoy about volunteering?

As the virus situation developed, I thought helping to provide support to others would be a way of making myself useful.  I have met some great people.  People who I otherwise wouldn’t have met.  I have enjoyed doing things for people.  They are so grateful for what we are doing.  Some people have been quite eager to chat and I think they appreciate the opportunity to talk as some are having quite a lonely time.  A smile and a thank you has its own rewards for me.

Will you continue to volunteer post Covid-19? 

 I want to continue as long as I have got time.  I am currently applying for jobs.  If I get a part time job, I will probably continue.  If I get a full time job, it depends on time.

Angela Holt

What volunteering have you been doing for New Wortley Community Centre? 

I have been collecting food parcels and dropping them off to local people.  I have an 11 year old son and my own transport so have been fitting this around my childcare and home schooling commitments.

What were you doing before Covid-19?

I work as a Legal Assistant for a law firm and was furloughed from this at Easter.  I had been working 4 days a week (not Wednesdays).  I had been thinking about getting involved in volunteering on Wednesdays.  I do some ad hoc volunteering at my son’s school so I can find out more about what the school are doing.

What inspired you to volunteer?

I had a vision of lots of elderly and vulnerable people self-isolating and not able to go out or have anyone to help them.  They would be alone and struggling.  I knew that I had to do something to help.

What do you enjoy about volunteering?

I get a sense of satisfaction when people say thanks when I drop their food parcels off.  I have a chat with them and this may be the only interaction they have with someone.  I am happy to give my time to help people.  It doesn’t cost anything to give my time and by giving so little, I can help people.

Will you continue to volunteer post Covid-19? 

 I will have less time over the summer as my son is on holiday from school.  When he goes back to school, I will be more than happy to help out.  I didn’t realise how much volunteering goes on and what is happening in the community.  I think that the work that New Wortley Community Centre is great.  They have carried on supporting people throughout the lockdown and are still supporting them, where other organisations have closed and not been able to do this.

In summary, volunteering for New Wortley Community Centre has been a rewarding experience for me and the other volunteers.  Our work has been appreciated and we have been happy to feel useful.  As Victoria Kortekaas says:

We have had really solid volunteers who have been there every day to help out.  All the volunteers have been amazing and have put my faith back in humanity.  We couldn’t have done this without them.

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