By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead
Just over a year ago, I wrote in this column about how I believed that volunteering had lost its shine and was no longer a mainstay of most people’s lives.
It caused barely a ripple, though I was taken to task by a former colleague who believed I had overstepped the mark and been disrespectful of the many people who were giving freely of their time.
That was never my intention, but I did believe just twelve months ago that the word volunteering had acquired negative connotations and had become tied up in red tape and formality.
Fast forward one year, and I am delighted to be able to eat my words – all 750 of them. The coronavirus crisis has proved that not only are people willing to volunteer, they are prepared to do whatever it takes for their neighbours and friends.
Every appeal that we have made for help – and we have made quite a few during this pandemic – has taken us aback, overwhelming us (in a good way) with the sheer numbers of volunteers that have come forward.
But it is not just the stepping forward that has sometimes left us lost for words, but the sheer effort behind those offers that just keep on giving and seem to be indefatigable.
We wish now that we could have come up with a way of recording, not just the number of volunteers that came forward, but a way of calculating the vast number of hours that have been given freely.
We know that nearly one in a hundred of the total population of the Bay (c.135,000) have rung our Helpline to register their offers, but we also know in addition to those 1,300 people there are likely thousands more who are simply getting on with helping their neighbours, friends and relatives, without a second thought.
Helping each other through the last 360 plus days seems to be something that has come naturally. So many people have organised themselves and others to ensure that no-one in the Bay goes hungry and no-one in the Bay becomes isolated.
Neighbours who have barely exchanged two words before have become firm friends, and there are tens of thousands of people living here, who will be forever grateful for the kindness shown by others.
They haven’t thought twice about picking up the phone to check in or asking if anyone needs anything as they visit the shops or pick up their medications from pharmacies.
Others have organised themselves into Good Neighbour Support groups bringing together the residents of their streets or local communities to ensure that the phrase ‘we are all in this together’ has meaning.
Without exception, our volunteers and those that have signed up for the NHS volunteer scheme have gone the extra mile for people they might not have known before this crisis began
At the Riviera Centre in Torquay where the majority of vaccinations have been delivered so far, we have had people clamouring to stand outside in the cold, windswept car park to make sure the operation continues efficiently.
Without their help, who knows how many of the 55,648 (as of February 28th) vaccinations might have been delivered? And who can put a value on the gratitude felt by so many for a job well done?
As we move towards the end of what we all hope is the last of the lockdowns, it is to be hoped that none of us will forget the sometimes herculean efforts made by so many people, often putting others before themselves.
We have collectively proved in Torbay that our communities are strong and resilient and are prepared to step up when the call comes, and we can all rely on each other when the going gets tough.
But what of the future? When the memories of COVID begin to fade and we learn to cope with new structures in our lives, what then? Hopefully, the spirit of volunteering will continue as there are always people who need our help.
We will endeavour to stay in touch with our volunteers as we find ways to celebrate their achievements because those accomplishments must never be forgotten. Hopefully, many will be minded to keep on going, to find new ways to make a difference.
One good way to find new opportunities to volunteer is via the Torbay Together website. Sign up today at: https://torbaytogether.org.uk/