To celebrate Volunteers’ Week 2020, we chatted to Calum, aged 25, who started volunteering with the Bradford on Avon Town Council Community Emergency Volunteers (CEVs) in February. Paul Robertson, who heads up our training and development for the Communities Prepared programme, is the group’s senior coordinator.
This interview with Calum took place before the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown. The group has since been on duty for over 10 weeks, providing deliveries to the vulnerable and self-isolating in the community around the clock. A further 10 volunteers have joined the team during the pandemic, including many younger members of the community who have been either furloughed, home working, or back from university.
What motivated you to sign up as a community emergency volunteer?
I had always had in mind that I would get involved in volunteering at some point in my life, but I think there’s a danger as a young person with university and employment pressures to think, “I’ll get myself set up first, then I’ll do it.”’ Even though I’m currently in a bit of a transitional phase, I felt that I was perfectly capable of giving up the odd evening and/or weekend to volunteer.
To my shame, I thought it might contain a bit of a busy-body element, but the reality is far from that and is quite admirable.
Can you tell us a bit about your role and how you support the community?
I was hesitant at first about the idea of a local community support group. To my shame, I thought it might contain a bit of a busy-body element, but the reality is far from that and is quite admirable.
We operate, to a certain degree, as a voluntary extension of a variety of public services, helping with some of the lower level tasks. For example, during the flooding, we helped the Environment Agency monitor water levels as well as the flood barrier. I’ve yet to be involved in such activities but I believed they’ve also supported the NHS in getting doctors to their area of operations during poor weather and helped the local authority transport department. With the group training and equipment we receive, you really get a sense you’re part of a professional outfit.
How do you fit the role in around your professional and social life?
It hasn’t taken up much time so far, but on the occasions that I’ve had a late evening or given up an odd day at the weekend, I just try to remember the many other people across the country who find time to volunteer with far busier schedules than me.
Do I feel a sense of appreciation towards people who volunteer? Yes. Is there anything stopping me from doing something like that myself? No. I just want to feel like I’m contributing.
What do you get out of volunteering with the group? Why is it important to you?
For me fundamentally, it comes down to two questions: do I feel a sense of appreciation towards people who volunteer? Yes. Is there anything stopping me from doing something like that myself? No. I just want to feel like I’m contributing.
How do you see climate change affecting your role as a volunteer moving forwards?
Climate change played a part in my thinking when considering volunteering. I think a lot of people have a sense that we might be in stall for more frequent adverse weather conditions. As such, I think the training around the community response to these situations will get more of an impetus, even though it’s quite developed already for things like flooding and snow conditions.
What would you say to encourage more young people to get involved in their local community emergency volunteer group?
Once you’ve done the odd thing with a voluntary group, be it an hour a week or a weekend a month, it tends to fit quite comfortably into your day-to-day life. I’d emphasise to younger people to just join the first meeting to find out more information and get an idea of what’s involved. And although this shouldn’t be the principal motivation, most employers love to see voluntary commitments on a CV.
A note from senior coordinator, Paul, on the impact of COVID-19 on the group and how they’ve adapted during this challenging time:
Despite previously having trained with Wiltshire Council on public health emergencies, nothing prepared us for the intensity of work over the last 2 months. So far we have undertaken over 200 individual tasks from shopping and medication deliveries in partnership with the town’s spontaneous volunteer neighbourhood ‘street champion’ network, as well as putting up information posters around town on behalf of the Town Council and assisting with furniture deliveries for a homeless charity whose client was moving into an unfurnished flat.
Whatever the task, our volunteers have brought a friendly smile and in some cases, home-picked flowers to spread some cheer to those self-isolating.
Calum has fitted right into our COVID-19 response and, after some online training and mentoring, has even undertaken coordinator responsibilities, managing the volunteers as they respond to requests for help across our community.
It has been a privilege to be the senior coordinator for such a committed, cheerful, and eager group of volunteers, who have lost none of their enthusiasm after 10 weeks. They, along with every other volunteer across the country, should feel rightly proud of the important work they have done.
Thank you to Calum, the Bradford on Avon Town Council Community Emergency Volunteers, Lydia Booth and to all volunteers across the country for their incredible efforts and dedication to community resilience. Thank you!