Glastonbury Community Volunteers – providing support during lockdown and beyond
At the start of the Coronavirus pandemic I felt this was a great opportunity for the Glastonbury community to start initiatives that helped us all get through this crisis together. A chance to act as a positive example to other towns on how grass roots community organisations might work to provide services on a local level. After all, we have a thriving, friendly, diverse community composed of people with a vast array of skills and experience and a large number of community organisations.
Glastonbury Community Volunteers
The Glastonbury Coronavirus Volunteers group was formed at the start of the first lockdown, in March 2020, to provide free practical support to shielding members of the local community who were unable to do their own shopping or other errands. As supermarkets didn’t yet have the systems in place to cope with the massively increased demand for home deliveries, around one hundred Glastonbury locals came to rely on the volunteers for shopping or prescriptions. The volunteers provided emotional support too, regularly phoning those who live alone to check in and chat. One volunteer has phoned the same lady twice a week throughout lockdown.
The work of the volunteers has changed over time, now they aren’t doing so much shopping as the supermarkets have sorted out deliveries, but they are still collecting several prescriptions a day, making phone calls and carrying out errands such as taking people for vaccinations or hospital appointments.
Over the course of the last year people have started to ‘buddy up’, friendships have been formed between those who might otherwise not have met and neighbours have started to go for walks together. Before Christmas users of the service and volunteers wrote Christmas cards to each other. There’s a group of children drawing pictures for the elderly people.
Recently the volunteers met on Zoom and agreed that the group was providing a service that would be useful even once the pandemic is over, in recognition of this they have changed the name to Glastonbury Community Volunteers. They want to make people aware there is still help available, you just need to ask.
Ripples of Kindness
Speaking briefly on the phone to Tanya, coordinator of GCV, it’s clear that the volunteers have benefitted from giving their time too. She explained that with both the young and the old at a ‘bit of a loose end’ it’s given people something to do, increasing interaction amongst the generations and helping combat isolation and loneliness. She sees everyone working together as sending out ‘ripples of kindness’ into the community and has seen these small acts of support make a big difference to people’s lives.
My friend Tracey has been volunteering with GCV since the start of the first lockdown.
“Back at the beginning, once lockdown was announced, I thought the government wasn’t going to be able to help everyone, we all needed to pitch in. Azra was at college, I was working, I got in touch with the newly formed GCV and they were particularly keen for Azra to help out as young people are less vulnerable to the virus. The main thing we were doing was shopping, initially we worked out a system as we were going along. We divided up into a team of shoppers and drivers who also delivered.
We now all know exactly where everything is in Tescos! Their staff were brilliant, really helpful. We got given a load of books by Morrisons. It was nice, it kept me out and about when others were struggling at home, although it felt a bit daunting initially, like I was exposing myself to the virus. People were still getting a little bit of human contact, albeit at a distance. We did loads of prescription runs and funny little requests, one day I had to pick up a pram from someone and deliver it to someone with an ill dog who wanted to take it out for walks. We topped up electric keys and got phone credit.
Besides doing individual shopping runs we also picked up donations of food from Morrissons, taking it to the volunteer network and the Food Bank in Glastonbury, the Salvation Army who run the Food Bank in Street and to the YMCA. I work at the YMCA, so when we had food leftover we’d give it to the homeless bus. We were delivering food parcels to anybody who needed one. We had teams of people on the phone, taking shopping lists, doing click-and-collect online shopping for people who didn’t use the internet but were eligible.
Now we are only doing emergency shopping for people who can’t use click and collect, we still pick up some last minute prescriptions, but otherwise we use Pharmancy2you. We do a lot of phoning people to check in with them who are lonely and welfare checks.
Out in the supermarkets and on the roads people were quite angry, we had some moments of road rage from scared people, but generally it was a really positive experience, people are appreciative. One lady we’d been delivering to sent Azra a lovely letter thanking him and gave me some flowers.
The team have Zoom meetings to work out what is needed and what to focus on. They are a really lovely group of people, most of us still haven’t met in person. Tanya was amazing, she doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, but she was handling phone calls from morning to night.
Whatever is going on there is always a group of people ready to stand up and help others. I’ve never felt particularly connected to my community before, but now I’m meeting people I wouldn’t otherwise have met, many of them elderly and vulnerable. It’s showing people that others do care and it’s not all about waiting for the government, who couldn’t possibly reach everybody.
We’re still here and it’s not just about coronavirus, long term we want to keep going as a community resource network that people know they can come to. We will signpost people to other services and charities when appropriate”.
I spoke to Brian on the telephone, who was full of praise for the work of the volunteers:
“They’ve been lifesavers, I don’t know how else I’d have got my shopping. The friendship that has been shown to me by the volunteers has been superb. Tanya and Sue have been wonderful and we have become good friends”.
Azra – a Young Volunteer
Tracey’s son Azra is nearly 18 and is studying media at college (or more accurately at home as we’re now back in lockdown). He has been volunteering with his Mum since the start of the first lockdown, mostly shopping and delivering prescriptions. Now he has started at college again he doesn’t have as much time, but he’s still available.
“It’s been good, it can be tiring, it’s not always fun, but I don’t mind doing it. It’s made me more aware of how other people live, particularly older people, as I hadn’t met many other than my grandparents before. People are always pleased to see us, some say it’s the highlight of the day when I bring them their shopping, it’s nice to hear that but it’s a bit sad too”.
“It feels good being able to help people, it’s been a really good experience, especially over the first lockdown as it kept me a bit busier.”
Azra made this short video about the GCV:
GCV have done two big leaflet drops locally but believe there are still people who could benefit from some practical help, or phone support, who don’t know about the service or are too shy to ask.
I know many people are reluctant to ask for help, but talking to the volunteers I got a very strong sense that by giving people the opportunity to help you, you are gifting the giver too. This is a lonely and stressful time for most of us and taking positive helpful action not only strengthens the community but helps our individual mental health too. If you are thinking about volunteering please join the Facebook group, even if you are vulnerable and shielding, you can help by making phonecalls or writing letters to others in a similar situation..
If you need help, or are happy to help go to the Facebook page, or the Glastonbury Community Volunteers website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The group can also be contacted on 07753 333140.
Other Glastonbury Community Support
Glastonbury Community Volunteers are by no means the only group helping others at this difficult time and beyond. Glastonbury Community Fridge next to the Town Hall provides a fantastic opportunity for anyone in need to pick up donated food. A new group ‘Love Glastonbury’ is distributing food parcels from outside the Sonus Magus Music Shop every Saturday – I took a peek inside one and it looked more like a posh hamper than a food parcel. Meanwhile St Benedict’s Church and other local groups continue to provide hot meals for homeless people in the town.
Photos: All images kindly supplied to me by GCV, except the last two of Liz distributing food parcels outside the Music Shop, which are copyright Vicki Steward.
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