Volunteers, you are awesome

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

When the coronavirus crisis hit and the calls started coming in, we quickly realised we were going to need help.  A lot of help.

We asked for volunteers, and you came forward in your hundreds, and many of you are still with us today.

We can now boast a veritable army of volunteers across the Bay helping their friends, neighbours and even people they had, until a few weeks ago, never met and others that they won’t see face to face for a while yet.

We knew our communities were strong and resilient, but even we have been taken aback by the determination to come through this together, with everyone doing their bit where they can.

We have been staggered by the individual acts of kindness that we have come to call #TorbayKind with so many people going that extra mile for others.

Back in February, just a month before lockdown began, I wondered  in a previous column whether volunteering had lost its shine, speculating that in recent years the word volunteer appeared to have acquired a formal and disciplined aspect that we would all rather avoid.

How wrong I was.

I will happily eat my words and apologise to those who took me to task at the time because the old saying, “cometh the hour, cometh the man “has never been more true and Torbay man and Torbay woman have come forward in an unprecedented way for these unprecedented times.

We were for a time overwhelmed by the response, such was the scale of it, but as things settled into a rhythm we were able to take advantage of the help on offer.

In just a few weeks we had more than 700 people prepared to do whatever was needed – whether it be joining snaking queues outside supermarkets to buy and deliver much needed food or  to stand in equally long columns of people,  two metres apart, outside pharmacies to collect prescriptions.

People were prepared to drop whatever they were doing when an urgent call came in and rush out to help wherever they could.

We also had people acting as drivers for the foodbanks – some travelling as far as Bristol to pick up much needed supplies. Others were going from one of the 12 foodbank bases spread across Paignton, Torquay and Brixham to ensure nutritious meals and food parcels were delivered to where they were needed most.

Others, some self-isolating themselves, took to the phones, either as telephone befrienders – making calls to others who were lonely or isolated  – or joining the teams of people staffing the Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline.

When we named it a Community Helpline back at the beginning of March we had no idea how apt that was – it has been uniting communities and supporting new communities ever since.

It has brought together not just volunteers from the Torbay Community Development Trust but from Age UK Torbay, Healthwatch Torbay and Citizens Advice Torbay, as well as  from the NHS and Torbay Council alongside people who have never volunteered before.

United the community helpline has become a force to be reckoned with and it has been able to keep the most important thing as its focus, and that is the people – whether it has been the people giving or the people receiving  help.

It is said of volunteering that it is a great way to get experience (true); to gain new or use existing skills (true). It is also said that it is a great way of meeting new people (virtually true) and of making a big difference in your community (absolutely true).

Some of our volunteers are now returning to their  new  ‘normal’ and have had to give up their regular ‘on call’ status, but the vast majority of them tell us that they will continue to volunteer in whatever way they can.

In the words of one of our volunteers, Bob Ward: “Even when I get back to work and things begin to return to whatever normal is, I will continue to volunteer, I will always find time for that.”

This week is Volunteers’ Week and a perfect time to say a massive thank you to each and every one of you.

We commissioned Geoff ‘ The Sandman’  Ward to created one of his magnificent artworks on the beach in your honour, and we like to think that the extra ‘L’ that appeared in the word volunteer represents all the love that has been shown over the last few weeks.