Thanks to all our amazing volunteers this National Volunteer Week

Published: Monday, 1st June 2020

This year’s Volunteers’ Week it’s clearer than ever what a difference people make in their local area by the help they give.

Volunteers have been helping neighbours and strangers get through this crisis in amazing ways. From checking in on elderly neighbours, supporting their religious community or volunteering to help strangers in need, they have delivered essential support to get people through this crisis.

The City Council’s support for the most vulnerable could not have been delivered without the support of volunteers. In partnership with Oxford Hub, the Oxford Together project has relied on over 1000 volunteers who have helped with practical tasks like grocery shopping and collecting prescriptions for people who are housebound or self-isolating. Volunteers have also been helping to tackle social isolation through a ‘phone link’ service, where those who are struggling with loneliness are matched to a suitable, trained volunteer who can call them every day to check in on them and have a chat.

“I want to say a huge thank you to all those people who have given their time to support people through this crisis. There are people across this city who have been housebound for a range of different reasons, and without your help to collect shopping and prescriptions, and to check in on the most isolated they would not have been able to manage through this crisis. I also want to thank our partner Oxford Hub, who were able to recruit thousands of volunteers in a matter of weeks. They haven’t just recruited volunteers, they also put in place systems to train volunteers, check DBS clearance, and match thousands of requests for help with someone in the local area. Getting the best out of volunteers and volunteering needs good organisation as well as good intentions, and Oxford Hub have really shown how it can be done.”

“People in Oxford have really pulled together through this crisis, and as lockdown eases I hope that community spirit will continue. We will need to work together to get Oxford back up and running, and volunteering, being active in the local community, can make a huge difference.”

Councillor Marie Tidball, Cabinet Member for Supporting Local Communities

The Council has also worked with community groups and religious groups to support their voluntary work. During the month of Ramadan, the Council engaged with five Mosques in Oxford, and worked closely with the Central Mosque to prepare and distribute hundreds of food packages throughout Ramadan to families in need, with members of the congregation giving their time to pack and distribute the packages. Barton has launched a Love the Place You Live initiative to celebrate the area, with sunflower planting initiative to make Barton beautiful and a children’s art competition.

Oxford Mutual Aid is also supporting people across the city. The volunteer group supports around 230 households each week with help shopping, collecting prescriptions, and food parcels for those in need, and provides around 500 re-heatable meals for people unable to cook at home, partnering with Age UK and Dementia Oxford.  They also have a PPE production project, making machine washable masks for NHS and care home workers.

What the volunteers say

Volunteering also brings a lot of benefits to the people giving their time. In this current crisis it’s been a way for people to feel connected to their community, which is important for their own wellbeing.

“I think that helping out in this way is not just providing support to vulnerable people in Oxford, but is also quite emotionally restorative for the volunteers as well. When things seem so uncertain and out of control, you know that as a volunteer you can do a small task and make one person's day slightly easier, or that little bit less lonely. I also find Elizabeth an inspiration - even at her age she always answers the door looking fabulous, the other day dressed in pearls and burgundy velvet at 10am on a Tuesday! What a queen!”

Chelsea Haith who volunteers with Oxford Hub and supports 81 year old Elizabeth with weekly shopping

Oxford Hub volunteer Hamish is part of the Phone Links service, making regular calls to two isolated people who got in touch for help with feeling alone in the crisis.

“The thing I enjoy most about my volunteering is the sense of fulfillment. I’m feeling part of the Oxford community for the first time ever. The highlight of Phone Links has been finding so many common interests with people I'd never speak to otherwise.”

He says he’s learnt a lot more about the social issues facing Oxford residents, and wants to take more action to support others following his work with Oxford Together.

Volunteering in lockdown

Some volunteering activities have been disrupted by lockdown, but there are still plenty of things you can do if you want to get involved.

Team Oxford have created a Furlough Exchange, where you can offer your skills to organisations that need help. This might be using your professional skills or a hobby, they will match them with charity projects that are looking for support.

Oxford Hub is still looking for people willing to help out in Blackbird Leys, Northfield Brook and Rose Hill. If you think you could help with simple tasks like shopping and collecting prescriptions get in touch on the Oxford Hub website.

Oxford Mutual Aid has a variety of volunteer opportunities. For people who can commit to a regular 2-4 hour slot, they need help with food parcels and delivery. They are also looking for volunteers experienced at supporting adults at risk, and people to help with co-ordination and outreach. Find out how to volunteer with them on the Oxford Mutual Aid website.

You can help us create an archive of Oxford under lockdown, to show future generations what life was like during this period. The Museum of Oxford is making a digital collection  and you can make suggestions to submit photos, videos or words to the digital exhibition

Oxford Hub Phone Links support helps people who are feeling lonely by establishing a regular phone call from the same volunteer, so they know there will be someone to chat to and they build up a relationship. The service will continue beyond the lockdown as isolation won’t end for some people, you can sign up now as a volunteer.

More volunteer opportunities are available on the Council’s Activity Hub page.

“We’re really proud of all our volunteers, who have been fantastic at responding to the call out for help. It’s been a huge challenge, but it’s been amazing to be able to bring all these people together to help Oxford through this crisis. We normally work out and about in the community, so it’s been a big change to do this all by remote working, just using the phone and internet, but everyone has pulled together. Being a volunteer is not just about what you can do for other people, it also gives volunteers a lot of satisfaction, confidence and new experiences.”

Lizzie Shelmerdine of Oxford Hub