More than 2,000 volunteers have signed up with Volunteer Centre Hackney (VCH) since the lockdown came into force in March, more than double the annual figure within just two months. VCH is the organising hub for Hackney Council’s volunteering response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the community.

Volunteer Centre Hackney has placed over 250 volunteers with multiple local charities including Hackney Foodbank, Shoreditch Trust, Marie Curie (St Joseph’s Hospice), BlindAid, Age UK East London, Young Hackney and Badu Community CIC. The team at VCH screens volunteers, offers training in telephone befriending, advises charities on their volunteer programmes and coordinates volunteers to deliver food and medication in the borough. VCH volunteers have delivered more than 2,000 prescriptions. The charity is also supporting GP surgeries to deliver blood pressure monitors.

Volunteers, local residents and partners on working with VCH

‘Volunteer support really is the backbone,’ Melanie Rochford, Hackney Foodbank

‘Volunteer support really is the backbone of what we do,’ says Melanie Rochford, Business and Development Director at Hackney Foodbank, which runs five foodbanks across the borough. ‘They are massively important in all of this.’ Since the lockdown, demand at their busiest foodbanks has tripled. Hackney Foodbank has turned to VCH for support to help them manage volunteer recruitment and screening.

‘Lots of small charities like ours have suddenly in the face of the pandemic become overwhelmed by good will and people wanting to volunteer,’ says Melanie Rochford. ‘We just need to prioritise what are the biggest fires that need putting out – and it’s keeping up with the demand, it’s serving people in crisis, ensuring that we signpost them to additional forms of support to address their underlying issues, and it’s getting the food out to them. So VCH can offer that support of looking at those [volunteer] applications for us and also looking at what they’ve got in their own pool and matching up our requirements.’

VCH is also recruiting volunteers to support the charity BlindAid in telephone befriending. London’s oldest visual impairment charity, BlindAid works to improve quality of life and promotes independence for Londoners with visual impairment. Under lockdown, BlindAid is unable to offer face-to-face support to its service users. We want to connect as many people as we can by telephone,’ says Elaine McCann, BlindAid volunteer specialist and sight guide trainer. It’s been invaluable the partnership that we’ve built up with Hackney Volunteer Centre, it’s just worked so well.’ 

‘A life saver,’ Anthony, 71, local resident

Anthony, 71, describes VCH’s support as ‘a real game changer, a life saver’. Volunteer Joshua delivers food parcels to Anthony. ‘I’m very grateful to Josh and to [VCH] for organising this and being kind to me. It’s really helping me through these hard times. It gives you hope in humanity.’

‘It’s nice to be able to support people who are obviously suffering and are isolated and in desperate need,’ says Joshua, who works in television. He is currently on furlough and is volunteering four days a week for VCH and Hackney Foodbank. Joshua hopes to continue volunteering beyond the pandemic. 

‘People who are less vulnerable need to help out the more vulnerable,’ Ella, volunteer

Mother and daughter Marianne and Ella are delivering prescriptions three times a week as a team in their neighbourhood in Clapton. ‘It’s such a completely unprecedented situation that I think it appeals to lots of people to just step up and do what we can,’ says Marianne, who has recently retired from her job as a human rights lawyer. ‘We can’t predict how this situation is going to evolve and while we can do something it feels absolutely the right thing to contribute.’ 

‘There’s lots of people in a vulnerable position right now and if you’re someone who is able to do something, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t,’ says Ella, who was working as a lab technician before lockdown. ‘People who are less vulnerable at this time need to help out the more vulnerable.’ 

For more information about Volunteer Centre Hackney, visit: www.vchackney.org/

Press release and image courtesy of Volunteer Centre Hackney

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