As 2021 draws to an end, Sandwell Advocacy Volunteer Development Officer, Juanita Williams reflects on the last 24 months and how local volunteers have made a massive difference to the lives of lonely, vulnerable and isolated people across the borough.
“I recall back in Christmas 2019 all the talk about a new virus that was sweeping across China. Our news channels showed shocking images of people being forced to isolate. Social media was awash with jokes about Christmas parties, no kissing under the mistletoe, no hugging and herd immunity. In the same way we fantasise about what we would do if we won the lottery, all across the country friends talked about who they would like to isolate with, the chance to work from home and how great it would be not having to get up for the commute to work. Those smiles were soon to be wiped off our faces as we learned more and more about this deadly virus. By March 2020 we were ourselves in lockdown. Socially isolated from friends and family, only allowed out for half an hour exercise and desperate for online shopping. You remember the empty shelves, the pasta and toilet roll shortage? What was that all about? We feared going to supermarkets in case we touched a trolley or tin of food that had been touched by someone carrying the virus. Some people wouldn’t open parcels and envelopes for days, until any viruses had well and truly disappeared. People with illnesses and long term health conditions worried about how they were going to get their medication.
Here at Sandwell Advocacy we were keen to do whatever we could to help and within a matter of a couple of weeks we had set up Sandwell Together, a telephone befriending service for people who were missing their friends and family. Surprisingly, or maybe not, it wasn’t just the elderly who missed their chats. Young moms who were trying to work from home whilst give their children lessons were at their wits end. Working people who thrived on their interactions in the office, after work at the gym or in a bar. The even darker side was that of people in abusive relationships who feared for their lives as the world was shut out and there was no-one to check on them. Everyone was affected. Volunteers came forward to us from all walks of life, people with time on their hands, people who themselves were missing their social lives, people who just wanted to help. In total we had well over 100 volunteers on board and many more referrals for people wanting to talk.
Things moved on and as restrictions eased we thought the need for calls might lessen. In fact, the need was even greater. People were so used to staying home they struggled to go out back into their old lives. Peoples mental health suffered, anxiety and depression was exacerbated as the death toll rose on a daily basis and didn’t seem to abate.
As I sit here at my desk in December 2021, almost two years on since I first heard of Corona virus and Covid-19 I sometimes have to pinch myself to wonder if it was real. Whilst it has not been a time of happiness and joy it is easy to reflect on some of the really positive changes. Sandwell Together in my opinion is a success story. People who had never volunteered before came forward and can be proud to say they made a difference to someone’s life. Their regular phone calls were lifesaving to some, just knowing someone cared was enough. Chats at the bus stop or at the supermarket checkouts were a thing of the past but phone calls were looked forward to. I know from speaking to people how much they appreciated those calls and I am happy to say many of them continue today.
So what do I know today that I didn’t know back in December 2019? I know the world is still a place where there are nice people, kind people who care about others. I know that we still need more volunteers to join our service because loneliness is not going away. I know that many people have often thought about volunteering but weren’t sure if they were right for the job. I am asking you to give it a go, have a try, dip your toe in the water. I am also going to put my neck on the line and say I am 99.9% confident you won’t regret it.
Please get in touch and find out more. There aren’t many questions I haven’t been asked. You can give as much or as little time as you want. You can change your mind if you want to. We will cover any expenses you may incur and we will train and support you throughout.
Have a look at our website, read our annual report, look at what we do and give us a call on 0121 520 8070 or email Juanita.email@example.com
You won’t regret it! I promise!”