COVID-19 Good Neighbours Case Studies

Mike Turner: Good Neighbours Volunteer

VODA’s Good Neighbours project coordinates a host of friendly volunteers who are keen to support their local community. During these difficult times, we have worked hard to help as many people with grocery shopping, collecting prescriptions, odd DIY jobs and community buddy support.  


Mike has volunteered in North Tyneside for many years. He has begun trying some Good Neighbours project volunteering and made a huge difference in a couple of months.  

Since September, Mike has visited 5 people to complete handyman jobs including changing a bulb, shaving doors, hammering down laminate flooring and painting damaged skirting boards. Mike has also given over 4 hours of his time to one of VODA’s charity partners, the refugee and asylum seeking charity, Walking With.  

One beneficiary had been quoted £240 for a job of which Mike was able to complete half, saving them £120. They told us the DIY had really helped and they were now able to shut their bedroom door properly.  

We don’t accept referrals for specific joinery, electricity or plumbing jobs and you don’t need any special skills to be a Good Neighbour, only skills you would use in everyday life.  

Mike fits all of his volunteering around his life as it suits him and he has been able to take a look at any ongoing or unmatched opportunities by consulting our new Volunteero platform.  

Volunteero is an app that can be used on smartphones or an internet browser. From there, you can enquire further about a Mission to see if it would be a good fit and to access further coordinator support. The team are very happy to work with you over the telephone or by email too if an app isn’t your thing. 

Mike has also begun supporting people as a Community Buddy, where you can go for a small walk or a cuppa with people who have been mostly house-bound for the past 18 months. This role is for a fixed number of weeks with a view to building up confidence with being back out in public and with people who have limited mobility. 

The Good Neighbours project is also seeking volunteers to help with gardening jobs which could involve clearing and sweeping paths, cutting back shrubs and weeding. We can provide you with some of the necessary tools and you could cheer up somebody who can no longer manage their garden. 

We continue to ask all volunteers to follow COVID safety precautions such as mask wearing. If you would like to find out more about our volunteering opportunities please do get in touch!  




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Volunteers’ Week: Good Neighbour Sherrill Bacchus

Sherrill moved to the North East from Cambridge four years ago. She had worked in recruitment for many years, but decided it was time for a change, as she didn’t feel like she was really living life. So, one day she decided that there had to be more to life than working crazy hours, paying the mortgage and living for the weekend, so she put her flat up for sale, handed in her notice at work and moved up north to be closer to her best friend of 40 years!

Sherrill absolutely loves living up here, she said: “I’m surrounded by beautiful coastal scenery and fabulous, friendly people, plus I’ve discovered brown ale, stotties and the Lindisfarne festival, what more does a girl need?”

The Covid-19 pandemic put Sherrill’s plans to convert a van and travel round the world on hold. so instead she turned to volunteering.  Sherrill initially downloaded the NHS Responders app so she could start volunteering, but there were some teething problems and no one contacted her, then her neighbour told her about the Good Neighbours scheme, as he had been helping to deliver food parcels.

Sherrill started off helping with prescription deliveries and food shopping via Good Neighbours for people who were high risk and self isolating. She then progressed to becoming a volunteer driver for the Family Gateway and working in the Howdelicious cafe at the Howdon hub. She also helps out there in the kitchen Monday – Friday helping make up the free meals that are delivered to vulnerable families in the local area. Sherrill said the charity are doing amazing work and she finds it so rewarding personally to know she’s able to help people. “I still find it crazy to think we live in a world where people are struggling to get food!”

Sherrill was also one of the first volunteers to become a Garden Gate Buddy. She and her buddy met on a weekly basis from August to October, which worked really well. The lady she visited was very down to earth and independent, but had been stuck inside her flat for over a year due to very bad arthritis in her legs and feet. So, Sherrill would sit in the lady’s garden with her. Sherrill said Josie Robinson at VODA did a fabulous job matching them together as they had so many things in common and both loved a good chin wag.

Sherrill has really enjoyed being able to help people wherever she can. Just being able to listen and empathise with someone means so much to them and to her!

“I’m a huge believer in remembering that you never know what someone is really going through and a small act of kindness could make someone’s day and put a smile on their face!! The pandemic has affected everyone’s mental health and I’ve met so many lonely people, who literally just want to have a chat with another human being, in person, so I’ve been happy to oblige!

“On a personal note, I live alone, so I was also starting to feel very isolated and cut off from the world, unable to socialise, meet friends, go to my festivals (which I love!), so volunteering has truly helped me both mentally and physically. I really am grateful for it!

“If you have the time, I highly recommend volunteering! It’s such a lovely, rewarding feeling, knowing you’ve helped someone and more than likely made their day, week, maybe even month!”

Sherrill has been shopping for Sylvia for the last three months. One week, Sylvia saw adverts on TV advertising pink hair dye and was very keen to get the look herself. Sherrill got her a semi-permanent dye to begin with, but it only lasted a couple of washes so Sherrill went out again and bought her a permanent one. Sylvia now loves her pink/purple hair (see photo to left of Sylvia with her new hair colour).

Once Sherrill bought both of them a bunch of yellow roses as they were both feeling down.

“Volunteering for Sylvia has helped me. I regularly look forward to doing her shopping as she always puts a smile on my face. Sylvia is a ray of sunshine; she is easy to talk to, very funny, laid back and says what she thinks. Sylvia had not been out for the whole of lockdown but has managed to see a friend recently and found it really nice getting out. Sylvia is very open about feeling low sometimes, but by the end of the conversation we’re laughing.“

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Volunteers’ Week: MD Hamid – be there for your community!

Law student, NUS delegate, asylum seeker and volunteer MD Mominul Hamid believes in following his Mother’s legacy ”Be there for your community and be there for your people and something good will happen in return” and as a result recently won The Extra Mile Award in the National Societies & Volunteering Awards.

Alongside his other volunteering and trustee roles, MD has regularly volunteered at the local COVID-19 vaccination centres and along with fellow volunteers brings a sense of community and fun to the sessions they attend, with their enthusiasm and dedication to helping others. MD has also joined in with the new hat craze, started by fellow volunteer Kevin.

“I am really glad and happy to be part of the VODA team and be there for our community.” MD M Hamid

MD Hamid featured centre, with VODA’s Liz Fry left and fellow volunteer Kevin Dickinson right.

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Volunteers’ Week: Kevin Dickinson and his hats!

Volunteer Kevin Dickinson has become a bit of a celebrity at North Tyneside’s GP-led vaccination clinics with his collection of silly hats. From what started out of necessity on a cold December’s day needing to keep warm, Kevin soon realised that his hats were a useful distraction to people who may be feeling anxious and brought a bit of cheer to their experience.

Kevin spoke to us about his experiences as a volunteer.

Why did you sign up to volunteer?

I was made redundant from the NHS in 2018 and decided to take early retirement. As my retirement hadn’t been planned I hadn’t worked out what I was going to do once I wasn’t working. By coincidence Newcastle was Hosting The Great Exhibition of the North that summer and I found myself volunteering at venues throughout Newcastle and Gateshead helping visitors get the most pit of exhibits and learning a thing or two myself about the town I lived in. I met some great volunteers that year who recommended other organisations to volunteer for and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself volunteering for a diverse range of organisations covering sporting events, the arts, science and health.

COVID put a stop to most volunteering though I still managed to do some things virtually.

I feel that the pandemic is probably the biggest threat to mankind that I will experience in my lifetime and when I heard volunteers were needed at vaccination centres I jumped at the chance to help and play my part in fighting it.

I’m proud to have been there when the first person was vaccinated at a GP vaccination centre in North Tyneside and to have played a small part in the great success of the vaccination programme.

What do you do when you were volunteering?

At the vaccination centres I am a volunteer steward ensuring visitors know where to go at each stage of the vaccination process.

I’m also keeping a look out for any visitors who may need additional help or who are anxious about the vaccination. Whilst it may look like we are simply directing traffic and having the odd conversation here and there we are trying to out people at ease by ensuring they are confident about the process and distracted from worrying.

We also ensure that any visitors who have queries can speak to the most appropriate person who can give them an answer.

Is there anything that really stands about your volunteering experience?

I started volunteering in mid December on some very cold days. I had a skiing hat that I usually wore when walking as it’s great for keeping my ears warm so thought I would wear it when working outside vaccination clinics. It hadn’t occurred to me that it had another purpose! So many visitors commented on the hat and one gentleman approached me to say he had been nervous about having the vaccine but had lost all the nerves when he arrived at the centre and saw my “silly hat”.

I realised I could brighten people’s days and maybe help them worry less by wearing the hat and soon learnt that it also worked to make the vaccination centre less daunting for visitors with learning disabilities or special needs.

Of course the weather improved and I also worked inside so I decided I needed a range of hats to cover each situation so gradually built up a collection of “rainbow hats”.

I’m still keeping an eye out for any visitors who may need help or additional support but I’m also singing and dancing in my hats to keep the atmosphere light-hearted and help out people at ease when they visit a vaccination centre and this seems to be appreciated by visitors.

The number of positive comments we have received from visitors is overwhelming and humbling to know that people really appreciate the volunteers.

What would you say to anyone wanting to volunteer?

Do it!

It’s a very rewarding experience, especially if you have direct contact with the public.

The great thing about volunteering is that you can do as much or as little as you want and there’s such a diverse range of volunteering oportunities there’s bound to be something there for you.

Anything else you would like to add?

We all get into bubbles (not the COVID kind) where we tend to meet and socialise with people similar to ourselves. Volunteering is a great way to meet a diverse range of people both in fellow volunteers and the public you will come into contact with. It’s also a great way to improve your own mental health as there are a fantastic range of experiences to participate in. Whether you do a little or a lot every hour of volunteering helps.

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Jane Goodall

Photo of Kevin with fellow volunteer MD Hamid, who has also joined in with Kevin’s hat craze!

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Volunteers’ Week: Good Neighbour Charlie Fernandez

Charlie got involved with volunteering as he doesn’t like sitting around. He has worked all his life, starting off as a merchant navy engineer and then became a mechanical engineer. Charlie’s wife passed away four years ago and the company he was working for asked if he wanted to take retirement but advised him to ‘not sell his tools’. In terms of volunteering, Charlie had a look online and VODA came up. Being semi-retired and doing some volunteering ‘breaks the day/week up nicely.’

Charlie started with Family Gateway delivering meals from Howden, which is pretty regular so he gets to chat to people. Once his enhanced DBS came through, he also starting doing grocery shopping using the Volunteero app. Charlie finds this works well as you can choose how much you want to do and it only involves the click of a button. He does get the odd text message from the Good Neighbours team asking ‘Can you do a shop?’, which is fine too. He has a couple of people he shops for regularly in Forest Hall.

Charlie was born and raised in India and moved to the UK in 1968. Charlie really likes meeting different people, but has found some of the older generation are a quite surprised when he turns up at their door. “Once they get to know me it’s fine.” This experience hasn’t put him off.

To anyone thinking of volunteering, Charlie says: “I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s quite a nice experience. You meet all sorts of people. I like driving so it’s a plus. I absolutely love it.”

Update: Sadly Charlie passed away in August 2021. Our condolences to his family and friends.


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Volunteers’ Week: A message of thanks from Paul Hanson, North Tyneside Council

As part of our Volunteers’ Week celebrations, Paul Hanson – Chief Executive of North Tyneside Council – shared his message of thanks to the volunteers who have supported the North Tyneside community during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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A thank you from our beneficiaries!

Our volunteers have been a lifeline during the Covid pandemic for many residents. We managed to capture just a few of the messages of gratitude they wanted to share with the volunteers to say thank you for being there for them when they felt at their most vulnerable.


Lillian Bell

Melanie Milburn

Dorothy Kershaw

Margaret Denholme

Raymond McCall

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Beyond Planet Corona

Volunteer Peter Mortimer kindly shared an excerpt with us of his musings on being vaccinated…

Meantime, off for the second jab at The Parks, North Shields. I felt cheated when the first jab produced no symptoms while the odd friend boasted of dizziness, fatigue, coughing or possibly St.Vitus dance.

The second jab produces few side effects apparently, so my chance has probably gone, and I cannot temporarily retire to my bed,

Being a bit ill appeals. Not the virus, something less drastic. The possibility of lying down for a week with no responsibilities. Aaah!

Pills-aversion mean I rarely take medication and switch off when the conversation turns to ailments (many older people talk of little else). Hence, for years I thought Paracetamol was a small country in South America.

Back to The Parks. I liked being there. The jab experience brings a sense of order and good sense. There were not many of us and we were well-spaced out in a hall the size of an aircraft hanger. An unspoken sense of camaraderie pervades. We are, each one of us, part of that fragile, brilliant, maddening, irresistible species called the human race and the moment affirms our vital interdependence. The volunteer staff were calm, polite, caring, the opposite of a jobsworth.

I found myself wondering – is there some strange process making us more positive and enthusiastic when we’re engaged in unpaid, volunteer labour? If so, maybe it’s time to base an entire new political philosophy on this fact.

I was escorted to one seat, soon after led to a second, before being invited to an actual jab chair.

My ‘jabber’ was a pleasant attractive young woman called Jen who smiled, chatted then produced the needle. Its sudden presence can make even the most gung-ho among us suffer a momentary sense of unease.

You mean they’re going to stick that weapon in ME?

Hardly time to consider the ramifications before the needle was in and out – less time than it takes to blink and with as little discomfort.

I was then led to a fourth seat for the fifteen minutes recovery. After six minutes I stood up and slunk off to pedal the four miles home. As I did so, a sense of guilt and betrayal weighed on me like a bucket of lead. My heart pounded with the expectation I would hear the booming voice “And just where do you think you’re going?”

For those twenty minutes, I expected the flashing blue light of a pursuit vehicle. Even after the journey, when safely inside, I furtively peeped round the curtains for any sign of the forces of law and order. What defence could I give for such a flagrant abuse of the law that may, for all I knew, put the entire national vaccination programme at risk?

I attribute these feelings to a catholic upbringing which leaves an individual dragging behind them lifelong a ball and chain of guilt. No matter I am long lapsed. Catholic guilt is not ephemeral. It does not wash out.

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Lianne: a Moving On Tyne and Wear case study

Moving On Tyne and Wear (MOTW) is an employability project with the aim of moving people into employment or training. The project also includes volunteering opportunities to build on skills such as team work, communication and motivation as well as growing in confidence. A number of volunteering options are available across North Tyneside depending on people’s interests and circumstances.

During the pandemic, Lianne had to shield as her mum has some health problems. Lianne wasn’t working at the time and found out about Moving On Tyne and Wear via the Job Centre. She was referred to the SAINT project, which aims to reduce barriers to volunteering. The project enabled her to engage with something she enjoyed doing, but from home.

Lianne has a passion for crafting. She had made and sold items in the past, but found she didn’t enjoy it as much and carried on with crafting as a hobby. Lianne already had a large supply of crafting materials including cards, magnets and candles. By volunteering with SAINT, Lianne was able to turn her interest into something that would benefit the wider community.

Lianne’s favourite activity so far has been making Christmas decorations out of clay to be included in Christmas food hampers. These were handed out to vulnerable residents across North Tyneside who have been receiving support for shopping via the Good Neighbours project during the lockdown.

Jo Woolley, SAINT Action Worker, has seen Lianne grow in confidence and values her speed at getting things done and commitment to the cause. It’s also been an opportunity for Lianne to take more of a lead and shape the service she’s been involved in.

“Lianne’s really enthusiastic. She’ll do anything that’s thrown at her. Her enthusiasm inspires me.”

Lianne has enjoyed making things, being part of a team and cheering people up. She found the crafts she’s been involved with her kept her busy and kept her imagination going. In addition to her volunteer work with SAINT, Lianne has been making items for her neighbours in order to cheer them up.

The team at MOTW has looked into other opportunities for Lianne to progress such as making cards that charity shops can sell in order to cover the cost of materials. This idea has been put on hold for now due to the pandemic, but Lianne continues get involved with SAINT and there are further opportunities where her skills can be utilised.

For anyone thinking of volunteering via Moving On Tyne and Wear, Lianne says: “Give it a go, you’ll enjoy it.”

Find out how to refer yourself to the MOTW programme here

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Andy Burtenshaw: Good Neighbours Volunteer

Andy is an ‘ex Southerner’ who has lived in the North East for more than 20 years. He has more than 30 plus years’ experience of working in HR, most recently at Teesside University and Gateshead Council.

Lockdown came and Andy wanted to do something to help and keep busy. He didn’t feel he knew his local area that well having worked in different localities so it was an opportunity to engage with where he lives.

Andy had always enjoyed meeting people as part of his job. Initially, Andy looked on North Tyneside Council’s website to try and help with employability given that he has a role as an Enterprise Adviser with the HR Professional Body (CIPD) supporting the Tees Valley Combined Authority. However, he didn’t hear back and when he chased them they suggested he consider Good Neighbour instead. Andy found it was easy to sign up and the process of getting an email/phone call outlining a job is very straightforward.

Andy started with the shopping scheme despite describing himself as “not a great shopper”. At the beginning of lockdown there was lots queuing involved and things you weren’t able to find, which drove him mad. There were also some local items that he couldn’t get or he hadn’t heard of before such as chicken butter pie. Andy found it interesting learning some of them and knowing where to go, and enjoyed having some regulars to shop for.

This led on to ‘buddying’. Andy was very reluctant with buddying to begin with; he has a hearing impairment and wearing face masks means he is unable to lip read plus he found the combination of face mask and ‘Geordie’ difficult for him to understand. However, because Andy meets both of his buddies outdoors and at a safe distance face masks have not been necessary.

Andy started the garden gate scheme in August when he went to visit Melanie, who was unable to walk far due to a health condition and preferred if someone would come to her home. After his first visit, Andy had no idea whether he was making a tangible difference. The key moment for him was getting feedback that it was working and he’s since learnt that just being there is helping.

Melanie and Andy have been lucky with the weather and have continued meeting in her garden despite it being autumn. There was one day when the weather was torrential and they both stood under cover in her garden. Andy has enjoyed going to see her and thinks, should the official visits come to an end, he’d be happy to exchange details and keep in touch.

Melanie commented: “The garden gate scheme is a wonderful service; I’m really enjoying it. I get dead excited about Andy coming. It’s spurred me on to do things and not sit here panicking; it’s given me purpose. Andy’s a lovely gentleman and we’ve met three times so far. I prefer the continuity of the same person visiting rather than speaking to a different person each time with telephone befriending. My garden gate buddy and I are like chalk and cheese, but that’s a good thing.”

In addition, Andy has been visiting Derek every other week since September. Derek had previously fallen and broken a bone hence being weary about going out. They started with a short 20 minute walk the first week, which increased in the length the next time they met. By week three, Andy and Derek were not paying attention where they were going and got hopelessly lost near the Rising Sun Country Park. Andy now knows to stick to routes where they know how to get back.

Andy found getting out and meeting new people has done him good. The experience has also made him reflect on life. He is very happy volunteering and this has led to him recently becoming a trustee for VODA.

 “You get a positive feeling that money can’t buy.”

Andy’s daughter is currently furloughed and he is trying to ‘twist her arm’ to give volunteering a go as he thinks she would enjoy it as well as helping her get out and giving her something to do. Andy had really enjoyed being a volunteer.

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