Back in March, the UK reflected on the impact that Covid-19 has had on our families, community and the country as a whole. Amidst the national reflections we all took time to remember those who put their lives on the line to keep us all safe, our pride in our NHS is rightfully high, as is our pride in our communities for stepping up to the challenge of helping one another. Where we were able, people lent a hand to keep the pressure off our hospitals by looking after their neighbours.
On 23 March 2020, the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic became real in Dacorum. People were sent home from work, businesses and community organisations were closed, and for many an uncertain future loomed ahead. Within a few weeks the furlough scheme brought relief for many and cries of ‘you’re muted’ or ‘turn your camera on’ became the soundtrack to our working lives. For many of the vulnerable residents in Dacorum the world became a frightening place, their support mechanisms were no longer in place and they had to learn how to book online deliveries, if they could get a slot! Overnight our world changed, and our community changed with it.
Community Action Dacorum works across the borough, coordinating community efforts and supporting charities with their work. Community groups were hard hit and the team at the Hemel Volunteer Centre in the Marlowes were supporting those groups when the phone started to ring. ‘It was amazing to see,’ Loretta Anderson – Support4Dacorum manager said. ‘Within three weeks we had over a thousand people offer their time to support people who were locked in their homes due to the first lockdown. We all had to stop what we were doing to answer the calls and check out three years-worth of volunteers in a matter of 3 weeks or so. I am so proud of the team and how they stepped up to make it happen.’ This was the start of a change, throughout the past 12 months people have come forward to help others out, they have found the joy of volunteering, and they continue to do so today.
One of those who offered to help was Bethany, a 25-year-old Deputy Manager of a restaurant and hotel in Berkhamsted (pictured). ‘I was furloughed from the beginning of the lockdown period until recently and decided to apply to volunteer as I had all the time in the world to do something, and I wanted to help,’ she said. ‘Apart from my Duke of Edinburgh award, this is my first volunteering role.’ Bethany delivered shopping, collected prescriptions, and took people to medical appointments if they couldn’t get out due to the lockdowns. Bethany and the other volunteers like her have made a difference to the lives of people across Dacorum and beyond. For many people who were isolating, the worry of how they could get to their hospital appointments was a big deal. The Community Car service reduces anxiety in its users and their families.
As the year drew on, more and more people came forward to answer the call and support a range of volunteering activities, each making a small difference to make lives better. Local groups popped up in towns and villages, often through social media, always with the good of their community at heart. Again, the volunteer centre team helped out where they could, ensuring that no matter whether people volunteered through formal or informal groups, they did so safely and were offered support.
As the summer turned to autumn, communities continued to look after each other, growing in a sense of oneness as more and more people kept offering their time. Many volunteers returned to work and remained volunteering in the evenings and at weekends. Some employers allowed volunteers to help the community during the working day. Dacorum looked after its own and reduced the fear, anxiety and loneliness that many would otherwise have felt.
As Hertfordshire moved into Tier 2 and then the second national lockdown kicked in during November and December, volunteers changed their approach once again to support the Clinically Vulnerable and ensure that life continued with some normality for those in danger.
Then a light was spotted, vaccines were being approved in the UK and our thoughts all turned to rollout. Over 400 volunteers stepped up to help shepherd patients through the mass vaccination centres in Maxted Road and at Hemel Hospital. Tens of thousands of Dacorum residents have been helped and guided through the system thanks to the care that volunteers from our community have shown. More people have offered their time driving patients to the vaccination centres, not just in Dacorum but further afield too, all proud to be playing their part in tackling the pandemic. Community Cars drivers have taken nurses out to the housebound. Lucy, a nurse working at the Maxted Road vaccination centre told us, ‘I cannot explain how much of a difference it made. Having a driver made life so much easier. As you can imagine trying to park in Hemel can be an absolute nightmare. Andy, my driver, was brilliant, he was able to pull up as close to the house as possible was very calm and knew the route really well. This meant the service was much more efficient and safer for Nurses and everyone else.’ Andy and the other volunteers like him have made a difference to the lives of people across Dacorum as without their help the housebound vaccination programme would not have been able to be completed with over 700 people being vaccinated in their own homes within a 2-week period.
Community Action Dacorum continue to develop new services to help our community through these challenging times. In the past few months, they have recruited community information champions, who are disseminating honest and accurate information about the vaccination program to hard-to-reach communities, ensuring information is available in Dacorum’s main languages, through print, video and through a Tuesday lunchtime show on Radio Dacorum. Our network of local businesses and charities, Connect Dacorum, is distributing tablets and computers to those whose health is detrimentally impacted due to being digitally isolated. And ‘normal’ community services are starting to resume across the borough.
‘We are extremely proud and impressed by the community’s response over the last year,’ Simon Aulton, Chief Executive of Community Action Dacorum said. ‘It is a shining example of what a great place Dacorum is to live. The strength of our community is what makes us special, and I sincerely hope that it will continue as we all recover together from this pandemic.’
Volunteers across Dacorum have made a positive difference to the lives of people across the Borough, showing care to those who needed it and treating them with dignity and compassion for the past 12 months.
If you want to volunteer to help in your community, whether that is as part of the Covid relief work, rebuilding community groups, or just for fun, please contact the volunteer centre at: firstname.lastname@example.org.