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There With You: Havering charity sees half a year’s worth of volunteers come forward in 10 days during coronavirus crisis

PUBLISHED: 17:00 08 April 2020

Shelley Hart

Shelley Hart

Archant

The charity coordinating the voluntary response to coronavirus in Havering has seen half a year’s worth of volunteers come forward in just 10 days.

Havering Volunteer Centre has had more than 500 people offer their services to the community in less than a fortnight.

Shelley Hart, the charity’s founder and chief executive, said they normally have around 1,000 volunteers register in a whole year.

She described the community response as “heartwarming”.

Among the work the charity provides is befriending calls to isolated residents and giving emergency food packages to those in need.

The amount of calls it is receiving from people in need of support has also risen dramatically - between February 22 and April 6 they had more than 3,100 calls. This compares to 137 calls in a monthly period at the same time last year.

This figure includes 1,885 calls in one week between March 30 and April 5.

Shelley admitted she did not know how some people would manage without the charity’s assistance.

“I beggar belief if we weren’t here what would happen.

“I spoke to somebody last week and he said to me I was the first person he had spoken to in 10 days. There are some really isolated and lonely people out there so even if someone says ‘I am doing alright, I don’t need anybody to call me’, we are still doing welfare checks back on them.

“Without us doing what we are doing, there are hundreds and hundreds of elderly residents and vulnerable individuals that would be hungry and isolated and alone.”

She founded the volunteer centre in 2016 and is extremely proud of those that work and volunteer for the charity - it has had to employ five extra staff temporarily to cope with the extra workload.

It has supported 127 people with food parcels and registered more than 450 people who need support.

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“A couple of people I have spoken to have said that with the bags of food we have given out to them, it is making them feel loved and cared for.

“We do care about our borough, we do care about our residents and we want to make sure that they feel they are not a burden and that they are valued as the individuals that they are.”

There has been a nationwide weekly clap for the NHS and Shelley feels the efforts of volunteers should be given more recognition.

“The message I want to get out to people is volunteers are so vital and sometimes they are overlooked. We are risking ourselves here for the benefit of other people.

“I think sometimes volunteers are the silent heroes. We are silently going around doing all this work. We are classed as frontline, key workers but nobody seems to recognise the actual value of volunteering.”

Shelley said the charity, which provided help following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, prepared for the crisis but could not foresee the scale of the number of people who were willing to volunteer.

She called for those volunteers to bear with the charity while they are assigned a role and said around 120 are now mobilised in the community.

“This is in for the long haul. This is not going to be a sprint, this is a marathon. It is going to go on for months and that support is going to go on for months. So we have got to make sure we match people up right and ensure we are caring for everybody and safeguarding everybody as best we can.”

Shelley is hopeful that people who have volunteered during this crisis will continue after it is over.

“Post the pandemic, we are going to touch base with everybody that is volunteering and say ‘Do you still want to continue? Your support has been so vital and we hope you enjoyed your experience as tragic as it is’. Hopefully we will keep them volunteering, that’s our aim.”

The community response has also been praised by Havering Council’s leader Damian White.

He said: “I’ve been overwhelmed by the efforts of our volunteers and voluntary organisations. There is a desire and determination to help our vulnerable residents and it proves just how special Havering truly is.”

Shelley said the charity is looking for donations of new carrier bags.

To volunteer, email volunteering@haveringvc.org.uk and, to access support or donate, call the charity on 01708 922214 or the council’s Covid-19 hotline on 0800 368 5201.


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