Community spirit helped us through the crisis. Let’s cherish it

It is Volunteers’ Week and this year, writes PETER UNDERWOOD, it is more important than ever that we celebrate what makes people want to volunteer

Peter Underwood’s volunteer duties this year included delivering flowers to veterans ahead of VE Day

One of the really positive things to come of the coronavirus pandemic crisis has been the return of a wonderful community spirit. People have volunteered to help out, felt good about doing something worthwhile, and really enjoyed it.

This week has been Volunteers’ Week, and it has taken on an extra importance this year, as we celebrate the fantastic response of groups and individual volunteers to the coronavirus crisis. One of the great positives in this dreadful situation has been the way people have come forward to help their neighbours and communities through this difficult time.

Mutual aid groups sprang up virtually overnight in every area. People came forward to do shopping, collect prescriptions or provide hot cooked meals, like my local group in Selsdon.

Existing volunteer groups have also had to adapt to the changing situation. Many groups, such as Shirley Neighbourhood Care, already provided support to local residents but their volunteers were mainly older people who now have to stay at home for the sake of their own health. It is only thanks to new volunteers coming forward that they have been able to keep their services running.

Similarly, new services that were only just getting going at the start of lockdown – like Purley Food Stop – have suddenly had to meet a whole new level of demand and they have relied heavily on the availability of willing volunteers.

In the middle of all of this sits Croydon Voluntary Action. CVA supports local community groups and acts as a focal point where people who want to volunteer can find out about opportunities available. This has provided coordination across all of the groups that have sprung up and also meant that volunteers like me have been able to help out where we can be most use.

In “normal” life, before covid-19, my job was to look after volunteers in Croydon’s parks and woodlands in my role as a senior project officer with The Conservation Volunteers. We have had to suspend TCV’s activities during lockdown and I have been furloughed. I still wanted to be useful, and so I’ve gone from looking after volunteers back to being a volunteer.

Volunteers sort out food donations at the Purley Food Stop

Many of my fellow volunteers are in a similar position. They suddenly found they had some more free time, they wanted to help and so they came forward to volunteer. This has been fantastic as hundreds of new people have come forward to help and support others in their community. But the government’s plan to rush people back to work is putting an end to that.

People who previously had more free time are now having to go back to work and so are cutting down on their volunteering. But the people in need of help have not gone away and the government is not providing any support to replace the work of all of those volunteers.

So this is why we need people like you to join us. Even if you can only spare a couple of hours a week, you can make a huge difference. If you have a vehicle, could you spare a morning to deliver a few food parcels?

If not, could you do a shift at one of the centres sorting through donations and bundling up packages to go out to people?

Even if you can’t leave the house, could you join the befriending service, just chatting to fellow people who can’t leave the house to make sure they are alright and give them someone to talk to?

There are many covid mutual aid groups which have sprung up around the borough you could contact – click here for a listing of them, with contact details. Or if you would like to help and you are not sure how or where you can, then contact CVA by clicking on this link to find out about the options available to you.

As we hopefully put the worst of this crisis behind us, we need to keep that new-found community spirit going. We need to carry on looking out for each other and build on that.

If you want to be part of that, then please come and join us and become a volunteer.

Read more: ‘Community energy has come through in these testing times’

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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