The volunteer economy

Since Covid-19 hit the UK in March 2020, there has been an increase in the need for community cohesion and coming together to help those most in need within the community. It’s recorded that a total of 16,000 people has registered to formally volunteer with Volunteering Wales since March this year. This project takes a look at those, often overlooked, volunteers in our community, and how the pandemic has affected the work they do.  

“Volunteering of this nature has had a huge impact on protecting communities and will continue to be vital in the next phase of the outbreak.” 

Luke Morgan, founder and volunteer of the charity Make a Smile. Luke Morgan is a 4th year medical student at Cardiff University.

Luke Morgan

‘My name is Luke Morgan, I’m currently a fourth-year medical student and about three years ago I founded Make a Smile, which is a volunteering project at Cardiff University where we visit children in hospital and work with children with disabilities. Make a Smile is all about giving children opportunities that they might not have otherwise. So, for a lot of people it’s very easy to have these interactions with characters that they look up to, but for someone who may communicate in a different way, for example, via British sign language, you can’t have that same experience by going to a place like Disney. We’re all about giving those same opportunities to as many children as possible.’

Q: How has Covid-19 affected the work you do?

‘Covid-19 has affected us quite badly. Over the summer, all our events were cancelled. We are now introducing new things, including a YouTube channel and a project called Teaching with Tiaras – where a princess is actually teaching a lesson. As we can’t visit hospitals at the moment, wards can now book live calls with any of the characters, which will hopefully alleviate the scary time that a lot of kids are having.
I always say, a crisis is a good opportunity for mixing up a bit, to push forward new developments and introduce new things.’

Martin Rickets, a volunteer biker for Blood Bikes Wales

Martin Rickets

‘My name is Martin Rickets. I’m a Volunteer rider for Blood bikes Wales and I joined the organization in 2013, after I retired.
For me, the most rewarding runs that I do, is if I’m on the night shift and I get a call in the middle of the night, and sometimes I’ll say to the pathologists, what is this? What’s so urgent about this sample? And they might say that it’s for a newborn baby who’s very poorly, and we need to find out what’s wrong, and that really gets my heartstrings going.

And that’s in a way, that’s why I do this. I’m not looking for thanks or anything like that. I know that I’m helping someone in need. So as a longstanding motorcyclist, it’s a wave. It’s me giving something back, in a way that I can do well.’

Q: How has Covid-19 affected the work you do?

A: ‘In some ways nothing has changed, but in other ways that everything has changed. Some of our riders, given their age, because a lot of us are retired, although not all of us, have been shielding. What it’s meant is that some of those riders haven’t been able to ride through the pandemic. But on the other hand, during the pandemic, a lot of people were furloughed from their jobs. That meant that those people could give more time to help in blood bikes. So where we lost some because they were unable to ride, we had others come forward who were able to help out.’

Pat Donovan, a member of Keep Roath Tidy, a volunteer led group under Keep Cardiff Tidy, that hold weekly litter picks in the community.

Pat Donovan

‘My name is Pat. I’ve been volunteering with Keep Roath Tidy for the last five years and I’m now retired. Litter is the one thing that has been bugging me for a long time. I just can’t bear to see it, so I thought rather than moaning, let’s do something about it, even if it’s a bit of a token gesture, someone has to do it.’

Q: How has Covid-19 affected the work you do?

A: ‘When lockdown started, we had to stop. We started again when Keep Wales Tidy, told us that it was safe to do so, and we had to implement the correct safety procedures, as recommended by them, in order to start again. So, we only started back up again about three weeks ago, we had to do a risk assessment and set up track and trace for the volunteers. There has been a significant increase in the litter during the pandemic and unfortunately it is not going down, there is a lot of disposable masks on the streets.’

Q: How does volunteering benefit you?

A: ‘It’s a great bunch of people that come and volunteer for the litter picks. They’re all committed and there is a great community spirit. It’s really good to feel a part of the community, to do something, as well as addressing my problem with litter.’

Pictured is the Butetown Community Food Bank Project set up by Steve Khaireh in Cardiff during the Covid-19 pandemic to help those in need.

Steve Khaireh

‘I am Steve Khaireh and I’m a Community worker for an organization called Horn Development Association. I’ve been a community worker for over 30 years, working with the Council and I now work in the voluntary sector. But this project is quite unique project, we set it up at the start of lockdown in March and this is six charities that have all come together; Horn Development Association, Grangetown Boys and Girls Club, Henna Foundation, Hayaat Women Trust, Women Connect first and Butetown Community Centre, and I’m the coordinator. We set the project up during the first had the lock down in March. I was just delivering food and going shopping for people, collecting prescriptions, and realised the Community Center was closed, so, I contacted the management committee asked if there was something I could do for the people and the building and it went from there.’

Q: How has Covid-19 affected the work you do?

A: ‘It’s been crazy really in two ways for me. On a personal level, I was losing my faith in humanity, you know? I’m not happy with the way some of the decisions have been made and I’m losing that faith in people only interested in themselves. But since Covid-19 the amount of people who’ve come together. People from as far as Bridgend, who have turned up and have come here, offered their help and It’s restored my faith in humanity on a personal level. On a professional level, it’s the amount of people who desperately have no funds or no means to look after themselves is quite shocking. Something needed to be done to help and that’s what we’re trying to do.’

Somerset and Dorset Railway operations manager Matthew Harris

Matthew Harris

‘My name is Matthew, currently, I’m the head of recruitment at the railway. I’m also training assistant to Michael Abbot, who is the head of operations at the railway. So, the concept of my job is to encourage more volunteers to join the railway, which includes actively putting out advertisements on social media and on the website, working with the community and further afield, working with schools and other community projects whilst trying to gain some volunteers for the railway at same time. Young volunteers are the future of heritage sites like this one, they will soon take over and will keep this piece of history running. So, it is important that we get as many young people on board as possible.’

Q: How has Covid-19 affected the work you do?

A: ‘Personally, it’s not been too bad because like, I’ve just been going to work on the big railway, just keeping myself busy. At the Railway, we’ve had time to actually kind of explore future goals and aspirations that we can begin to plan and apply for grants and Lottery Funding, which we wouldn’t have really had the chance to do, because we would’ve been spread out working on the trains. Since we’ve been reopened, it’s been quite positive reaction, People have been returning. At the same time a lot of exciting things are happening behind the scenes because we’ve had period of not running it.’

Julian Henderson a volunteer at Scope stood outside their Cardiff store.

Julian Henderson

‘My name is Julian Henderson and I Volunteer for Scope. I’ve been a volunteer here now, for the last 8 weeks, and I’m absolutely loving it. First, I used to volunteer with another organisation, but for one reason or another, the shop closed due to the last COVID lockdown. I was Basically told that there wasn’t space for me at the shop, so I had to find somewhere else, It was then that I came from Caerphilly to down here in Cardiff.’

Q: From your role, have you noticed the effects that Covid-19

has had on the volunteering sector?

A: ‘It has slowed down the rate of people coming into the shop and asking to help. I think people are a bit tense about doing it now, which we don’t really need to be at all.
We’ve had to do various things. When things come into the shop, we have to put stuff into quarantine for 72 hours, which means that we can’t touch anything that comes in for that 72 hours just in case there’s something on the bag or on the contents, which could give us a very serious problem. So, that’s slowed down the integrated processing we do. Processing is the transmission of the product that we get in through the shop, sorted upstairs, then back to the shop floor. I have a few mental health issues and volunteering has really helped me get through the pandemic, It keeps your head going and If I can do a little bit to help out, I will.’

Images and words by Lily Watts.

Categories: Feature

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