Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplied by Joanne Duggins
During lockdown, many people came out to help those self-isolating and in need across the local area. Grandmother Joanne Duggins, 52, from Kingstanding, along with her granddaughter Olivia, 6, were amongst them – making a rather unique duo, bringing a tale of cross-generation inspiration to the people of Erdington.
Catering Assistant at King Edward VI Handsworth School for Girls, Joanne made the transition from feeding hungry students to voluntary food deliveries during the COVID-19 crisis – assisting first via the Erdington Community Volunteers (ECV) group, Joanne “started about a week after lockdown.” As the city’s plan to help the vulnerable became clearer, she went on to volunteer for The Active Wellbeing Society [TAWS], “packing of food parcels” as well as going on to “collect more food parcels, then do deliveries.”
Joanne and her granddaughter Olivia are almost inseparable, Joanne having taken care of Olivia almost every weekend since she was six months old: “I take her on holidays. We have a membership for the Think Tank in the city centre – I used to take her dancing.”
Treasuring those early golden memories, Joanne continues to support her granddaughter: “If I didn’t pick Olivia up from school, I wouldn’t see her as much.” But Joanne recognises the opportunity she has and the value of being with her constant companion: “I live on my own, so I have plenty of time to spend with her. I’m trying to make the most of her young years, really.”
Joanne’s volunteering would have been curtailed by her grandmother-duties, until she realised that taking her granddaughter with her on deliveries would be a good bonding experience. Olivia, who was aged five at the time of lockdown, became the ECV’s youngest volunteer – even being awarded her own lanyard and t-shirt.
Having a five year old girl helping deliver to different places can also really make someone’s day from the doorstep. Olivia gave simple, powerful compliments, which she happily lists: “I like your house, I like your garden, I like your car!” Olivia estimates that she did a “thousand billion thousand” deliveries, and Joanne confirms that at one point they were delivering food to homes in Erdington “every day.”
Olivia chirps that one of her jobs was to ask people, “do you want another one (parcel) next week?” Her favourite place to deliver was a flat in Great Barr that had “a black and white cat” and a tantalizing set of “slide and swings” in the front garden. As Erdington Local met with Joanne and Olivia in a playground in Sutton Park, there was also some time to play – with Olivia disappearing to play and make friends.
“It might be difficult to get her back,” joked Joanne.
The dynamic duo also made an impact on fellow volunteers, as co-founder and treasurer of the ECV, David Owen, tells Erdington Local: “Olivia’s an absolute star – she’ll make anyone smile.” He also recognises Joanne’s constant hard work: “Jo’s just one of those ladies – her heart’s as big as a bucket, but never feels like she’s doing enough.”
Asking Joanne in more detail about her experience delivering food and essential items during lockdown, she recounts visiting houses where “people don’t have a lot and are struggling. It used to upset me sometimes.” There was one repeat house wherein, “a young lad would open the door. There was rubbish in the garden, in the house, up the stairs. I wanted to take him home with me!”
On the other end of the spectrum, however, Joanne was irked by the houses with seemingly more wealth but were still taking food parcels: “one house had Audi 4x4s on the drive, they seemed brand new. I still delivered it (the food parcel) because I didn’t know the circumstances. I did feel sometimes people were taking advantage.”
Joanne wasn’t too happy with what seemed to be a PR stunt one day at Aston University, one of the main hubs where TAWS and ECV volunteers would gather for food deliveries: “This one day, all of a sudden they had all the students in from the university with proper t-shirts saying ‘we’re volunteers.’”
Upset by the fact that she and so many other volunteers from Erdington were helping out consistently, she said: “I thought ‘where have they been all this time?’ Later we found out it was because there was some sort of camera crew. You didn’t see them again afterwards!”
Nonetheless, when Erdington Local approached TAWS for a comment their Food Operation Duty Manager, Keith Cross, fondly remembers Joanne and Olivia: “Nothing was too much trouble for them. They were a smashing team, always bubbly, lots of stories, very entertaining. A pleasure to work with.”
However, as David Owen reminds Erdington Local: “We’ve had a bit of a lull over summer, but we’re due a hard winter – we’re not done yet,” referring to the volunteering that will still needed in the future.
With Olivia back at school and Joanne back at work, we may not see the grandmother and granddaughter team as part of the arsenal of volunteers any time soon. But theirs stands as an inspirational story that deserves to be celebrated.
To find out more about The Active Wellbeing Society, visit: www.theaws.co.uk
To find out more about the Erdington Community Volunteers, click here to visit the group’s official Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017
If you need help accessing food and essential supplies, or with a range of other issues during the coronavirus crisis, please visit the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce database of local support services: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support