A woman waving to an older couple in the doorway of their home

Hooray for the volunteers at the heart of our communities!

By Scott Jacobs-Lange Community Development Officer
3 June 2020

In Volunteers Week 2020 we’re celebrating the residents at the heart of our communities, going that one step further to support their neighbours.

Across Sovereign’s geography we have six resident community engagement groups, empowering change right where they live.

Pre-Covid-19 these resident volunteers gave up their time, organised trips and transport, coffee and chat, keep fit classes and community walks; and often got involved with schemes to help to reduce anti-social behaviour.

Despite the impacts of lockdown their input is still essential in reducing social isolation and improving wellbeing – and their continued actions make a real difference to many people's lives.

Throughout the last couple of months they’ve responded in different ways to help their local communities through the pandemic. On the Isle of Wight, the Nelson Road Resident Group has been meeting via Facetime and Skype to continue to talk about plans for the future and generally spread cheer among its members, many of whom are struggling with changes to their personal circumstances.

In Westbury, Wiltshire, group members of POPCAN sprang into action at the very outset of the coronavirus lockdown. Despite still working to support local SEND students, Community Learning Facilitator, Sam Shore, was among the first to answer a call from Westbury Town Council to support others in need during the pandemic.

When I asked what inspired her to get involved, Sam said: “I’m just not used to being sat at home for very long – I need to keep busy. My job involves helping others and I thought this was a good way for me to do more of that. It’s also been good for my own mental health and has helped me to stay active.”

With plans for their annual ‘POP-up’ Fun Day shelved due to the pandemic, funding for the community event was repurposed to help with Westbury’s coronavirus response effort. A food box delivery scheme took off quickly with discounted goods secured from local supermarkets. Sam joined an army of helpers collecting food, identifying people in need and making up and distributing supplies.

She added: “I’ve been doing deliveries in my local area of Penleigh and Oldfield Park, dropping off boxes to vulnerable residents and families. I also stop to have a socially-distanced chat to make sure everyone in the household is OK and find out if any other support is needed.

“This is such a nice part of my day as I enjoy meeting new people. It’s also great for POPCAN as we’re learning all the time about our local community. These connections will be important for the work we want to do in future.”

The group also organised a VE Day event local area, with people joining in from the safety of their front gardens and is planning a Big Lunch along the same lines to help people stay connected during this difficult period.

Finally, our resident group ‘All Aboard’ in Hungerford, Berkshire is eager to get back together as soon as lockdown restrictions ease. The committee of eight has several Sovereign residents, including Chairperson Sue Pearson.

Sue told me: "Although we’ve all been keeping in touch through phone calls, I miss it and look forward to going back. We like to get together, chatting away and I miss that nattering. We expect that new people will join when we open again. People make friends and have that sense of coming together, everyone getting involved and helping."

At Sovereign, we support groups to get them started, help with the governance involved and assist with start-up grants to keep them going. But most importantly, the ideas come from the community and our wonderful volunteers make it happen.

Essentially, more than just the ‘feel good factor’, more than the warm glow, we’re also using social value measurement to ensure that the funds and time that we invest are taken forward and do bring worthwhile change to our communities. In the last year, these six resident-led groups have generated more than £136k in social value with their volunteering efforts, and as it’s Volunteers Week 2020, we really want to say thank you to them all.

Our resident groups haven’t let coronavirus stand in their way – they’ve stuck together, called each other, delivered much-needed supplies. And we’re going to carry on supporting these groups and others like them, through £3.5m investment over the next four years, looking forward to working with many more of our residents.