Local writer and director Alexandra Wolley produced this powerful spoken word piece to reflect on people’s experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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.
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?
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!
The Power of Youth Day, which takes place on 2 June during Volunteers’ Week, is an annual celebration of the contributions children and young people make to society through volunteering and social action. It’s a chance to spotlight the achievements of children and young people.
In North Tyneside, children and young people have donated their time to a huge variety of volunteering projects in the last 12 months. Young volunteers from Monkseaton High School, Norham Community Wing, Southridge First School, Woodlawn School, Newcastle University Geography Department, and Phoenix Detached Youth Project, as well as lots of individual children and young people, have actively supported local communities through craft and creative activities, making treat and activity packs, local event planning and much more. Thank you to all who have taken part.
Here is just a snapshot of the contributions made by children and young volunteers over the past year…
Isolation activity packs with Newcastle University’s Geography students
Drawings by local children to brighten up the emergency food parcels
A little bit of time to make someone smile
Woodlawn School Christmas Hampers
At Christmas, the amazing children and young volunteers from Woodlawn School helped us with our Christmas hamper project.
The children partnered up with VODA for their enterprise and got 15% discount from Morrison’s Tynemouth for the food. They received donations from staff and parents and raised £90 after expenses from Christmas cards they sold as a social enterprise. A big thank you! #PowerOfYouth
Southridge School cards and Christmas tree decorations
Thank you so much to Miss McIntyre and her class from Southridge School for making these beautiful cards that doubled up as Christmas tree decorations. They fit perfectly into the equally beautiful handmade Christmas envelopes made by the lovely, generous Susan Dawson who normally volunteers with the Linskill Centre. The cards were included in our our festive food parcels.
Thank you to our young volunteers who helped on VODA projects
A huge thank you to all the young volunteers who have helped out in VODA projects during the last year, including Ben, Chris, Lucas, Annie, Chloe and others. Young volunteers have packed Christmas hampers, made quizzes, cards and gift bags and more. Let’s all recognise the #PowerOfYouth.
Monkseaton High School
The students from Monkseaton High School created sewing activity packs for people shielding to take part in at home, wrote positive messages which they sent to a local care home, painted decorative rocks and generally supported craft activities for people shielding. As well as supporting student volunteering, teachers donated hand made cards, prints, and inspirational quotes cards for distribution in the local community. Here’s the video from when they featured in the Spirit of North Tyneside celebration in December 2020.
Ignite Your Potential
“It has felt good to help people in the community.”
Thank you to young volunteers from ‘Ignite Your Potential’ @NTAdultLearning who supported VODA’s Good Neighbours project this year. Young volunteers have made all kinds of treats and gifts to cheer up shielding residents, demonstrating the #PowerOfYouth in supporting our communities.
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.
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.
Look up!! A flock of nearly 140 Pigeons* has swooped in to help to protect our communities in North Tyneside by helping to share trusted messages about Covid-19!
Our 140 Community Health Champions (*affectionately known as Pigeons) have been doing a phenomenal job of helping to make
sure key updates about the vaccination programme and changing restrictions are communicated across North Tyneside. They
continue to be our eyes and ears on the ground passing on questions, worries and feedback from across the borough which means
we are able to make sure we are able to know what information and answers we need to provide to help people move through the
pandemic as safely as possible.
Our Champions have helped out by featuring in videos to share what it means to them to have had the vaccine, handing out posters and leaflets in their local areas, by sharing messages on their own social media – and more!
The Pigeons have been absolutely instrumental in helping to share crucial health messages, acting as positive role models and trusted voices in their communities, throughout the pandemic. Collectively they reach nearly 2000 people across the borough every week which is no small feat!
It’s been really lovely to hear from several Champions that their friends/family members now recognise them as a trusted person to get information about the pandemic from, and that it has meant many more people have reached out to them for this.
“At a time when trusted information can mean the difference between becoming gravely ill or being able to stay safe – we are so incredibly grateful to all the Champions for the role they have played in helping to protect our community, and we absolutely could not have done it without them!”
Alice & Safiah, Community Health Champions Team
Some of our Champions shared what it means to them to volunteer!
Feedback/appreciation from the community:
“Coming from Voda I knew it was trusted information from the GP practices and that makes all the difference at the moment. There are lots of scams so it was good to hear about them. You don’t know what information to trust when you have been in the house for so long.“
“Huge respect and love to all the tireless and deeply passionate volunteers at Champions for encouraging and supporting so many at this extremely difficult time out of love, compassion and awareness of those highly vulnerable and in need. Long may it continue!”
“Thank you so much for looking into the information about the vaccination programme for me I really appreciate it. You are all amazing.”
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.
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.
NT LIFE Recovery College relies on the support of volunteer facilitators to deliver its programme of sessions designed to help people manage their own mental health and wellbeing. NT LIFE had to quickly adapt to online provision when Covid hit and has provided many students with vital support during these difficult times.
“The facilitators at NT Life really promote the feeling that we are all equal; there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We are all learning from each other, and growing together -there is a real sense of empowerment in that.” Emma H
Paul Lapham uses lived experiences to help nurture, build confidence and develop new skills in students. Using two of his own coping strategies – repairing old/broken items and mindful photography – to develop and deliver tailor-made sessions: ‘Talk Tech & Tinker’ and ‘Snap Out Of it!’. Paul has also qualified as a WRAP Facilitator during the summer of 2020.
Phil Saint has been with NT LIFE since July 2020. After coming along to a mindfulness session, Phil stepped up to facilitate regular online and in person mindfulness sessions.
“I feel grateful for all the help I received in the past and can ‘give back’ through my volunteering.”
Football lover Kath Miller has played an essential role in keeping the Football for Mental Health sessions going through lockdowns, venue changes and Covid restrictions, making sure the group stayed in touch via WhatsApp, so that they could continue to support each other away from the football pitch.
The ever-funny Julie Bishop has been with NT LIFE from the beginning. She facilitates DB Cuppa T and DB essential skills, is setting up a Carer’s support group, ready to go for her Covid-postponed swimming group, runs a Fun-da-mentals Facebook support group and is working on upcoming suicide prevention session. During lockdowns she kept people entertained, including her fancy dress Clap for Carers Tik Tok videos.
Jess Shaw was inspired partly by NT LIFE’s Little Box of Hope to create an Emotional Recovery Toolkit Course, for individuals to create a personalised kit which contains mindful items to use to help during challenging times, with things for all five senses and self-care tips.
Shelley Poste delivered the popular ‘Understanding and coping with depression’, and ‘Understanding and coping with anxiety’ workshops. Shelley also helped pack the Little Box of Hope, which was sent out last summer to people struggling with their mental health at home. Shelley has also qualified as a WRAP Facilitator
Emma Farrell has blossomed in her roles at NT LIFE. Starting out as an Admin Volunteer, she progressed to facilitating a number of Creative Writing courses, both with NT LIFE and more recently Meadow Well Connected. She also Co-Facilitated DBT Skills Training and developed lockdown sessions Book and Beyond.
Former Art & Design teacher Mick facilitates our popular Art Groups. We have had great pleasure in referring students to North Tyneside Art Studio to further develop their skills and interests and Mick has also inspired one of our students to enrol on a HNC Fine Arts course.
Also a mention of our new Facilitator Ryan Boyle who is running online Creative Arts for Self Care and Creative Writing for Poetry!
While she is no longer with NT LIFE, we can’t forget Amy Crammond, who was instrumental in the creation of our craft sessions. During the first Lockdown Amy developed the Creative Community and delivered weekly online craft sessions and has also delivered sessions from Whitley Bay Big Local.
Additionally, Special thanks must go to volunteers from the start of the project who without their efforts would have meant our progress was delayed
Phil Waugh (Mindfulness Facilitator),
Alice Cosgrove (Positive Self Talk),
Patrick Mayne (Admin),