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Volunteer Stories

Thank you, thank you, thank you…

We offer our heartfelt thanks to the thousands of volunteers giving their time in Sandwell to really make a difference to local people and communities.

During the 2020 Covid Crisis we enlisted a small army of local people who came forward to support their community, many for the first time.

We facilitated hundreds of them to ‘do their bit’, from shopping and collecting prescriptions for isolating residents to supporting existing voluntary organisations to change their way of working to cope with the crisis.

But of course there are always people in Sandwell giving their time freely – having fun, building their own confidence, making new friends, boosting their CV and learning new skills alongside making a massive difference to local communities.

To all of you, whether you’ve been helping out for years, or you’ve just joined the party, we thank you most sincerely.

And if you’re still waiting for your invitation then get in touch and find out more by emailing getinvolved@scvo.info

Helping out is a joy for life, not just for crisis.


Our Latest Messages


Maureen the befriender

Sandwell Together writes…

Janet on Sandwell Together

Doreen says thank you

Lisa designs new ways to work

Phil’s Story

A letter to SCVO

Gurdeep gives her time


Maureen the befriender


The Sandwell Together telephone befriending service was set up during April 2020 to offer phone calls to lonely, vulnerable and isolated residents in the borough.  Volunteers came forward and one of those was a lady called Maureen.

In the long summer of 2020 Maureen joined Sandwell Together to become a Telephone Befriender.  She was working from home and lived alone, she felt she had plenty to offer and hoped that the calls would be of benefit to herself as well as those she called.  She tells us “ It just seemed the right thing to do”.  

Maureen has had six callers up to now.  They have changed over the months but she is currently speaking to three people on a weekly basis.  Maureen explained that one of the callers was really struggling during lockdown and it soon became apparent that they needed more support than she could give.  The staff at Sandwell Together were able to refer the caller to a more appropriate service and their health has improved since and they are now looking for volunteer work themselves.  Maureen says she was well supported by Sandwell Together staff during this time but also recommends that volunteers be aware of their own mental health and well-being. “ It is important to know your own limits and look after yourself too.  If you don’t know the answer to someone’s question, just say so, tell them I don’t know but I will ask and find out.” 

Maureen is never short of something to talk about, her longest call was well over three hours long. Their conversations can be about absolutely anything: television programmes, hypnotherapy, sleep, food, lockdown and sometimes they debate, sometimes they agree to disagree and as she calls it “park it!”  Maureen relishes the relationships she has built with her befriendees and said they have all benefitted from the service.  They have learned from each other, in her words “ Each one, teach one ”. She hopes to keep doing it as long as she is needed. 



Sandwell Together writes…

Colleen applied to join Sandwell Together in December 2020, she had been in England since March 2020 having lived all her life in Jamaica.  She had wanted to volunteer earlier but lockdown put pay to that.  

As soon as all the necessary paperwork was complete Colleen started ringing two ladies.  She is now fully trained with the befriending service and despite a few teething problems with mobile phones the calls are now made regularly.  

The matching process has meant that the callers are well matched and they have lots to talk about.  Colleen tells us the volunteer experience has been really positive, she feels she has learned a lot about the culture of Sandwell despite struggling to understand some of the Black Country dialect.  She was highly amused by the “tea thing”, “everyone drinks tea, for every occasion!”  

She also told us that her confidence has increased as she now feels able to speak to people when she is out and about, she often chats to people at the bus stop and believes it has helped her to become part of her local community.  She already has good friendships in her church but telephone befriending has increased her willingness to get involved with activities going on around her.  She thoroughly enjoyed meeting the other volunteers on the Zoom training sessions and enjoyed listening to their stories and experiences, we occasionally needed to slow down and speak “properly” so she could understand us!

Like all of our volunteers we have never met in person but she did have this to say when we had our regular catch up

“I look forward to calling them because I get counsel from them, both of them give me good advice.  This whole lockdown thing isn’t good, they need to get out of this funk.  They are women of worth, they speak with such conviction and have so much to offer.  I mentioned I was thinking of fostering and they both said go ahead, yes go for it, they encourage me. Even when their own situation isn’t great they give me homework.  It’s about two people, no power, no superiority, that is the crux of it, two women sharing a conversation.  When it is rainy and dark I realise I could become down, in my own mind I am not myself, I find myself getting low and that makes me fight even more.  They have told me about SAD, we don’t have this in Jamaica! *smiles* I realise I need to pray more, read my Bible more, sing more and study more.  It’s a two way thing, there are so many positives.”



Janet on Sandwell Together

During my working career I’ve often thought about doing some voluntary/charity work, but for whatever reasons I just could not find time to include this into an already busy and hectic work/home life. Then came the pandemic, Covid-19, and coupled with the trials and tribulations of suddenly being made redundant, time was now on my hands. 

 

One of my dearest friends, Juanita Williams, who is an Advocate for Sandwell Advocacy told me that she was recruiting volunteers for their ‘Telephone Befriending’ service to make regular calls to people within the community who are lonely, vulnerable and isolated. Well, I seized at the opportunity, signed the dotted line as a volunteer and quickly realised that my chats with my newly found friends was also therapy for myself. I would look forward to calling each one of my friends as we would talk about anything and everything, we would have a laugh and lift our moods for a moment. The experience was and is extremely humbling and my greatest reward is when I am told that they look forward to my next call. 

As we all encountered various restrictions and numerous spells of lockdown, Sandwell Advocacy increased its presence by promoting the Befriending service with a “Sandwell Together, supporting one another” postcard, and I was asked if I would like to take part by being one of the faces on the card. Of course, I said “Yes”. 

In the early part of this year, my situation changed when I found new employment and although this role was full-time, I tried to continue with calls to my ‘friends’. Unfortunately, not having enough hours in the day meant that I was unable to give my ‘friends’ the time to just chat without watching the clock. I felt so guilty! I told my ‘friends’ that another befriending colleague would be calling them more often than I could, however I asked them if I could call from time to time, and I was so touched when they said “yes, please do”. 

My experience with the Befriending Service has been uplifting and continues to be and has reiterated that it is not always money that brings happiness; to some of our neighbours a few minutes of our time brings much more joy. 



Doreen says thank you

Hundreds of people signed up during the pandemic to support people in need in their local community. One of them was Andy…

“Sending volunteer Andy to us has been like some kind of miracle. My husband and I have no family close at hand, and all of our friends are in the same boat, stuck inside unable to go shopping. Andy calls us to see what we need and he’s so warm and friendly. When he turns up with fresh veg and fruit it feels like your birthday and we’re so glad to see him, even if it has to be from a distance.

“Last week when he dropped off the shopping I wasn’t feeling very well and even from the end of the path he noticed. He asked me what was the matter and insisted on going back to the shops to get me Paracetamol in case I had a fever. He made sure I had numbers to call and knew what to do if I got any worse, which thankfully I didn’t, and then he rang every day to see how I was.

“I can’t thank Andy enough, and SCVO too for organising such a fantastic service.”

Doreen, Smethwick.

P.S. Andy used his volunteering experience to boost his CV and has since been employed in his dream job as a professional carer!



Lisa designs new ways to work

Jigsaw is a local charity working with adults with learning disabilities and due to the pandemic had to stop all social activities for members – no craft group, no bingo, no trips ☹

For most members, Jigsaw activities were the only things they did outside of their home: where they met friends, had fun and enjoyed shared, new experiences, so naturally they were devastated.

Jigsaw staff and volunteers quickly developed an action plan to keep their members happy, including phoning members every week to check in on them, and setting up two WhatsApp groups where members, volunteers and workers could chat and have online fun. Even bingo was re-imagined via WhatsApp!

The skill set they were missing was graphic design, making activities visually appealing to their client group, and that’s where volunteer Lisa Barrett stepped in.

Lisa, a freelance graphic designer from Bearwood, had signed up to the SCVO ‘crisis’ data base, expecting to be called for something like shopping or prescription-collection. But she had mentioned design in her volunteer application, which a quick search identified.

With Lisa’s help, Jigsaw has been able to produce a weekly pack of fun activities for members and a growing number of other people with a learning disability in Sandwell. They make the activities available to other people with a learning disability via free downloads on their website homepage. The activities include colouring for adults, dot to dot, spot the difference, a range of quizzes and other puzzles and word searches. 

Lisa said: "I registered my availability to volunteer locally via SVCO's website back in March after seeing a call for volunteers on Twitter. Most of my work had been put on hold due to the pandemic, and I was keen to help people with my new-found time. It was fantastic to receive the introduction to Liz at Jigsaw, and I'm really enjoying being able to help in a small way as they keep their fantastic work going through this time.

“Although I’ve worked with many charities in the past, I've not worked with adults with learning disabilities, and it's been so rewarding learning about how Jigsaw truly helps its community of members, and is helping bring enjoyment and connection at this difficult time.

“I hope to continue to help Jigsaw going forward through Coronavirus and beyond, and look forward to the day when I can meet some of the members in person, and join them for tea and cake at our beautiful Lightwoods House."

Liz from Jigsaw said: “Our members love their weekly packs and Lisa’s contribution has enabled us to present activities in an accessible and engaging way. She has designed a number of resources including a healthy food quiz, which in addition to being fun also helps our members to eat healthy under the lockdown. We are really grateful to have a volunteer with Lisa’s skills working with us at this time.”

Find out more about Jigsaw: https://www.jigsawevents.org

Find out more about Lisa Barrett: http://www.lisa-barrett.com


Phil’s Story

Skip hire manager Phil from Great Barr never imagined volunteering before the current crisis.

In recovery himself from cancer when lockdown loomed he decided he needed to step up and ‘do his bit’ for the Sandwell community.

“I was furloughed from work and my partner was working full time from home, so apart from household chores I felt a bit useless,” he said.

“I sent in my expression of interest to SCVO but was a bit hesitant about what I could do because of the cancer recovery.

“Remarkably, they set me up to be a telephone befriender, which was absolutely perfect. I was used to talking to people on the phone, and I had some training from Sandwell Advocacy to deal with stuff I might encounter, which was great.

“That first time I rang someone who needed befriending was very daunting. I was nervous to say the least, even though I talk all day at work. But I soon got into it and it’s been amazing – there’s a different world out there I never knew of before and I’m privileged to be able to make it a bit better place.

“My family and friends are quite surprised I’m doing this but I enjoy it and have no plans to stop volunteering in some way or other even when this is all over.”

Phil is a volunteer for Sandwell Together, created during the pandemic by Sandwell Advocacy and SCVO as a befriending service for isolated residents.

Dave Bradshaw, project co-ordinator at Sandwell Advocacy, said: ‘The Covid-19 crisis has seen our community pull together in ways never seen before. People have come forward in their hundreds to step up to the challenge and volunteer to do something positive in a time of adversity. From supporting the work of health and social care services, to providing practical support to people unable to do their shopping or collect medication, through to those providing emotional support and social contact via telephone befriending the response has been overwhelming. At a time when the work of volunteers is especially recognised during Volunteers’ Week this army of volunteers has demonstrated what a huge difference volunteering can make’.

New Volunteer Phil


A Letter to SCVO from Tipton volunteer Bryan, helping out at Brushstrokes

Hi Kim,

Just want to say thanks for the kind words. It was so nice too to receive those pictures and letters from the children of the families I’ve been delivering to.

Thought I’d share with you a couple of little things from myself. Firstly, there’s a family that speak limited English, and the man’s name is Roberto. From the very first week we instantly clicked, not sure how or why (maybe the way they all come to the door with a smile). Every time I go there I instantly shout Roberto at the top of my voice and they all respond - quite funny with my thick Black Country accent! As I leave they all shout ‘ciao’, to me. From about my 3rd delivery up till present I give them a little present from myself, usually sweets, yesterday was a large bag of jelly beans (did want them myself be honest!).

Over the past few weeks any donations I’ve been given from friends and family I try to share out equally but I seem to find myself putting the odd tin of something extra in theirs. I scour the internet for free nappies which I collect if they are local to me, also as of yesterday my local shopkeeper Suky (known him for years), is topping up the parcel. He told me to pop in on a Thursday and just ask for a donation to take with me.

Anyway there you go - who knows how long my furlough from work will be or if I ever return but at the moment my volunteering will carry on in some form with Brushstrokes and with Sandwell Litter Watch and team. I enjoy both volunteer roles and either would be an area I could see myself in.

Regards Bryan.

BRYAN’S THANK YOU PICTURE

Gurdeep gives her time

The voluntary sector looms large in Gurdeep’s life, as under normal circumstances she has a rewarding career with a charitable organisation.

When the Covid crisis hit however, she found herself furloughed from work and realised she could put some of her experience to good use as a volunteer.

“I have a background in safeguarding and signposting and have always considered myself a good listener, so I signed up to SCVO’s volunteer data base and was steered towards the Sandwell Together befriending service.

“Within about a month I had seven people to chat with on a regular basis and they have all turned out to be so lovely.

“Most of them really need someone to just listen, not to talk back at them too much. They have so much to share and it’s a privilege to hear their stories without judgment, and without any obligation to do anything more than listen.

“Of course there are occasions when it’s useful to be able to signpost people to other services that could help them, and Helen from Sandwell Advocacy is great at that kind of training and support for volunteers. But in the main, the people I’m befriending don’t need any specialist intervention. They need little more than to open up to a listening, impartial ear.

“Some of them have absolutely no one else to talk to, and personally I don’t think that’s just because of the current virus situation. I believe there is a need for a service like this all year round.”

If you would like to know more about giving a little time to really help a lot email getinvolved@scvo.info