This week (1 – 7 June 2020) is National Volunteers’ Week, an annual event celebrating the contributions that millions of people across the UK make through volunteering.
On Thursday 4 June, the focus is on celebrating people who have taken on voluntary roles to help communities cope with the effects of COVID-19.
Colleagues from across the Science Museum Group have joined the effort and are making a difference in the fight against coronavirus.
We asked five of those colleagues to share their experiences for this blog post.
Matt Hick, Head of Volunteering
‘When Coronavirus first hit and lock-down loomed, it was clear that people in my home village of Scholes, Leeds, would need help.
People who, under normal circumstances, were perfectly capable of doing their own shopping, collecting prescriptions and other necessities, were suddenly unable to leave their homes due to illness or the need to self-isolate.
As a Head of Volunteering, I spend most of my days asking others to give their time. So, when the pandemic broke, it was important to me to give something back and contribute my own time.
As a result, I set up a local Community Response Group.
Your Scholes brings together a group of community leaders who oversee the planning and delivery of support within the village.
With the help of 50 volunteers, and £2k funding, we currently provide assistance to 20 local residents. We work with a local charity to provide emergency food parcels and medication, and our volunteers also offer friendly calls, a shopping service and even help people put the bins out.
In addition, we run a website and produce a weekly newsletter, which provides useful content aimed at supporting the long-term wellbeing of the village through a potentially extended period of isolation.
As well as the lovely feedback we’ve received from those we are helping, we’ve also received national coverage for our work from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.’
Ling Lee, Interpretation Manager at the Science Museum
‘I recently started sewing scrub laundry bags for a friend of a friend, who’s an NHS nurse. Not long after, I found my way to For the Love of Scrubs, a massive Facebook group that are – you guessed it – sewing scrubs for NHS staff.
I am nowhere near skilled enough to sew actual clothing that someone would want to wear in public, so no scrubs from me, just bags.
I’m also stitching face coverings, scrunchies, headbands and ‘ear-savers’ for the Sewing for Kingston-Surbiton CCRG.
I’m currently working on a new batch of fabric, elastic, wire and thread I picked up last weekend and am looking forward to churning out some more gear.
My partner, John, is helping – he’s been sewing since he was five! Our cat, Gravy, is not helping – she keeps sitting on the fabric and eating our paper patterns!
Of course, if anyone is interested in getting involved, just search for the groups on Facebook and sign up.’
Lisa Syne, Volunteer at the Science Museum
‘Since January I have been a Science Museum Medicine Astronights Volunteer. As I haven’t been able to volunteer at the museum as much as I would have liked of late, I have been volunteering at the training centre for the Nightingale Hospital at the O2 Arena.
I heard about the role as I normally volunteer with Team London, as a London Ambassador. It seemed like a great opportunity to help in the fight against COVID-19 and I jumped at the chance.
Training is open to a wide range of healthcare professionals, who are divided into groups of 25 with sessions delivered over two days.
Our role is varied and includes checking people in at the start of training, ensuring they know where each of their sessions is taking place and making sure they can get to the lunch area safely. We also fill goodie bags with all the donated toiletries from various companies who are supporting the initiative.
I feel very pleased to have been involved in this project and to feel like I have done my bit.’
Sue Wragg, Volunteer Management Team Volunteer at the National Railway Museum
‘As a volunteer already, with the National Railway Museum’s Volunteer Management Team and York Local Authority’s Ready For Anything emergency response team, it seemed natural to ask myself what could I do locally to help out when we were approaching ‘lockdown’.
So, I decided to sign up for the local Wheldrake village scheme, where I live.
Around the same time, I contacted a local resident who was going to have to shield herself. She was in the high-risk category and living alone, as her children had moved abroad. I made the decision to concentrate on helping her with her weekly shopping and collecting her medicines when required.
We are now in regular contact and both find our friendly chats and conversations about what’s happening very beneficial.
As well as this, I am on standby as a Ready for Anything volunteer at weekends in case they need help delivering information or making contact with those who may be on the shielding list but have yet to make contact with local authorities.’
Theresa Macaulay, Exhibitions Project Manager at the Science and Industry Museum
‘In June 2018, I was five months pregnant with my first baby and was mildly terrified that my brain might turn to jelly while on maternity leave.
At the same time, I saw an advert for Hulme Community Garden Centre, which was looking for board members.
The manager responded to my enquiry, we had lunch and, after he told me how the organisation had converted an area of scrubland into public green space to encourage healthy living through gardening and sustainable food growing, I was hooked! At the next AGM, I was elected Deputy Chair.
We have monthly meetings to discuss the strategic direction and management of the Centre. There was much to be improved and organised, and lots of energy was required. I had a month out, when our baby was born, then got stuck back in.
In July 2019, I helped develop the strategy for a Community Share Offer aimed at raising £200,000 to help create more accessible indoor spaces. It took six weeks to reach the target and felt like a huge win.
In August I was back to work and in December was appointed Chair on the Centre. Work on the new build continues and we’re hopeful it will be completed this year.
The pandemic, of course, has brought a new set of challenges.
If we had to close the Centre, it would have meant many plants would perish and the organisation may have folded. Thankfully, employees worked hard to establish a council approved sales service, offering delivery and pre-paid collections.
At a time when many people are stuck at home, green spaces (both indoor and outdoor) have brought relaxation and enjoyment to many.
In early June the Centre will reopen with social distancing restrictions.
Hopefully, income generation will continue, although future funding is likely to be impacted and one of the biggest challenges will be how best to keep the community work going. The board and employees will continue to work together to find the best way forward.
There have been times when I’ve questioned what I’ve gotten myself into. The challenges faced by a small, independent organisation on a regular basis can be trying, but finding a way through is its own reward.
Volunteering is a wonderful way to share your skills and feel good about contributing to something bigger. I highly recommend it. PS – Support your local garden centre and independent businesses!’