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Caring during Covid

Though the pandemic has affected everybody, organisations in the care sector have been hit worse than most. The volunteers they relied on so much were suddenly locked down at home and visits to residential and supported living services stopped. For the people these organisations support the lockdowns have reduced their social interaction and community access and made it hard to take part in activities. The result has been that many say they are feeling low, lonely and bored.

Some organisations have found ways to continue their service:

At the Milestones Trust, we set up a telephone befriender service; volunteers call people we support every week for a friendly chat and a check-in to boost their morale and well-being. Befrienders are using Zoom to undertake virtual activities with people we support. One volunteer runs monthly zoom socials and varied, fun sessions for people to enjoy. This has included sit-down yoga, a magician and a virtual trip to Bristol Zoo. We even have a volunteer teaching and playing guitar via Zoom.

At Jigsaw, we worked hard to put on virtual sessions over the summer to meet our Covid-19 safe plan. We managed to run a yoga session, martial arts and a science bugs session. We have learned a digital application called Seesaw by which we can set our young people cooking challenges and they can share their results. Now we have the virtual format set up we can provide training to people who are outside our usual areas of operation. We are hoping to develop a programme of webinars for non-members which we hope will generate us some income that will help fund our other services to members.

At PHASE, we have had to adapt to working in different ways to meet the current needs of our young people. Launching Walk and Talk Mentoring has been a highlight. During the first lockdown, volunteers delivered packs to all those who had been receiving support, containing a host of things that encouraged and promoted self-care, supported their well-being and offered opportunities for continuing to connect with us. We also increased our social media presence to promote physical and emotional well-being and ensured mentoring and counselling sessions could take place remotely for those who wished.

For some organisations, on the other hand, it has meant an almost total stop to activities:

The Over 60s Tea Room had to shut in March, though we did manage to reopen for a few weeks in September on very limited hours after putting in lots of Covid safe measures. Regulars told us how much they had missed not being able to come in and see everyone, so it was worth the effort and hard work. Of course we had to shut down again in November and we’ve no idea when we might open again.

Others have managed to keep going through links with other bodies, as here with Four Towns & Vale Link Community Transport:

From the start, when many of our members had to stay home, we worked in partnership with Green Community Transport and with South Gloucestershire Council to provide care packages for vulnerable people. We have continued to provide support to clients who need help through a service which has enabled them to attend medical appointments, go shopping and obtain vaccinations.

Not everything has been negative, as the North Bristol Advice Centre has found:

Though phone appointments with clients generally take longer and some volunteers have more administration to do as well as missing the face-to-face contact with clients and their colleagues, there have been positive outcomes too. Volunteers can be more flexible in their hours; planning training dates and one-to-one support is easier because no-one has to travel far to Zoom! Currently volunteers working from home could be carrying out their role from anywhere, so location and transport are not issues for them.

It has been slightly easier for people working outdoors, though local groups have spoken of great efforts having to be put in to overcome restrictions and get at least part of their regular maintenance completed. The Thornbury Orchard Group told us:

Even when restricted to one hour's exercise we used this to scythe the meadow and cut back brambles. Other jobs like weeding the Bee Bank inevitably fell behind. We also had Fireblight in the Orchard — Covid for trees. A tremendous number of extra hours above the normal was required. We had to sanitise tools for Covid and Fireblight whilst maintaining social distancing. All this actually made our Group stronger.

The situation is similar at Filnore Woods:

Despite the restrictions work has been carried out on the well-used paths and steps on the site. We have watered the newly planted trees in the driest weather; pulled out ragwort once the caterpillars had finished with them; trimmed the laid hedges; scythed some of the grassland; and cleared fallen and broken trees. Unfortunately coppicing and hedge laying have had to be postponed till next winter. The whole site is undergoing re-wilding for the time being.

Everyone agrees that the support from volunteers has been superb:

“Volunteers are a core part of what we do and now more than ever we recognise the contribution, value and positivity they bring!”
“Our volunteers have been amazing. They have adapted and picked up new ways of working quickly and stuck with us through many revisions to changes in procedures. We have all learnt to Zoom together, make WhatsApp video calls ... and survived into 2021!”

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Thornbury Volunteer Centre is a registered charity, number 1180775. The Town Hall, 35 High Street, Thornbury, BS35 2AR. Tel: 01454 413392. Hours: Mon-Fri 10:30-12.00. This site © Thornbury Volunteer Centre. Site design by Michael Quinion. Page last updated 24 Feb. 2021.