Opinion

The value of volunteers during the Covid-19 pandemic

Simon Hewett-Avison, Director of Services at Independent Age

The Covid-19 outbreak has touched all of our lives in these unprecedented times and, although there have been and will be a number of challenges, in many ways it has brought us closer together.

We may be physically isolated but as the recent, overwhelming rush to sign up to be an NHS responder showed, it has awakened a mass community spirit.

I am impressed on a daily basis by the dedication and compassion of our volunteers here at Independent Age, even more so now I’ve seen how they’ve risen to the challenge of the virus’ impact.

Arguably, no group has been affected more than older people. Forced to self-isolate for months, many are having their full and vibrant lives curtailed, while others who may already feel lonely and isolated are becoming even more disconnected from the world. In many cases, they are also facing more ageist attitudes from others than ever.

Whether classed as vulnerable or not, we know protecting us all from this frightening disease is critical; it’s why we’re all playing our part and social distancing. Yet it is not just our physical health that needs to be protected – our mental health is just as important. Volunteers play a key role in helping to protect both.

Our volunteers have been supporting older people and helping them keep physically and mentally healthy for many years in less challenging times. Now, they may not be able to give support in person, but they are still regularly speaking to the older people we support over the phone.

For many of our volunteers, their role has changed slightly in the wake of Covid-19. Calls now provide important checks such as whether people are eating and drinking properly, following proper advice, taking their medication, and keeping in touch with other people, as well as providing emotional support, a friendly voice, and helping to improve mood.

Staying positive

It already seems like a long time since Covid-19 arrived and the country went into lockdown, even if in reality that is not the case. We’ve been warned that the effects on our society will last for a long time yet.

When the initial crisis is over, we will need to take time for inquiry and reflection. The health and social care systems were already under strain before the pandemic, and may take time to recover from the overloading now. Among the scrutiny of what could have been done better, which we intend to take part in, there will also be many positives we will want to help highlight too.

We’ve already seen how the virus has started to bring people together and helped us to appreciate what’s important in our lives – our families, friends, communities, and the amazing people who work across health and social care, for example.

Ranked among these positives will be the role volunteers played and how yet again they delivered to help improve, and no doubt sometimes even save, people’s lives. I hope we all continue to value our volunteers just as much in the years following the Covid-19 outbreak and this amazing enthusiasm for helping others continues unabated.

Volunteers may give their time for free, but they are priceless.

 

Fact box

Independent Age has 1451 active volunteers

Independent Age volunteers made over 50,000 visits and calls to people in 2019

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