Words & pics by Ed King / Video by Paul Withers – Erdington Local Broadcast Unit
There has not been much to celebrate over the past few weeks, as the world has been put on pause to stem the spread of COVID-19.
But the silver lining of the coronavirus crisis can be found in the volunteer groups that have sprung up all across the country – grassroots organisations who have mobilised friends, families, and neighbours to support the most vulnerable in their communities.
And as national campaigns such as Volunteers’ Week have been highlighting across the UK, this community spirit and endeavour is playing an increasingly vital role in our country’s social care network.
The Erdington Community Volunteers began as a Facebook group, an online act of goodwill set up by local resident Jo Bull – launching via social media on the day lockdown began.
Two months later and they now have over 800 online members, with an active team of over 70 local people helping the official Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce deliver important outreach campaigns. What started as a simple gesture has become a fundamental support network for thousands of Erdington residents.
“There was a nationwide group of mutual aid groups at the time,” explains David Owen, who came onboard to help co-ordinate the Erdington Community Volunteers as their membership grew, “and a centralised group were asking for each community to create their own, in essence.
“We had 500 members (online) in our first 24 hours and it’s grown consistently since then, so we’ve got just over 800 members now. We wanted a platform for people who wanted to help, to meet up with those that needed help.”
Working with the Erdinton COVID-19 Taskforce, the Erdington Community Volunteers have become the hands and feet of a significant outreach programme with organisations such as The Active Wellbeing Society, Witton Lodge Community Association, Compass Support and The Pioneer Group
There has been an immediate and constant programme distributing food and essential household items across the constituency, with around 20 Erdington Community Volunteers delivering daily care packages to those who have needed to self-isolate.
“The coronavirus put people into lockdown who normally live completely independent lives,” explains David, “they weren’t used to dealing with established organisations.
“So, we filled that gap, if you like, between what are the statutory requirements and what are the requirements during COVID-19.
“Some of the national programme were slow to respond, in all fairness, and we able to very very quickly identify people who needed help and get that help to them.”
But whilst playing an important role in the community, especially during the coronavirus crisis, the Erdington Community Volunteers has become a community within itself – as many members discover unexpected positives from the time and effort they have given to the group.
“I found out about the group through my cousin, who started delivering a few weeks before I did,” explains Dillon Linford, a young resident who has been helping the Erdington Community Volunteers distribute food and essential items with The Active Wellbeing Society.
“It’s good. It’s a good way to break up the day and it gives you something to do during lockdown. I’ll have to fit it in between everything I’m doing, that’s restarting after lockdown, but I can definitely see myself doing more of it. It’s good for me; it’s good for other people. It’s good to help.”
But as Volunteer’s Week draws to a close, with the #NeverMoreNeeded and #BrumTogether campaigns hoping to continue the momentum of support, the Erdington Community Volunteers are also making plans for the future.
“For many of the volunteers it has been an extremely positive experience,” continues David, “it’s given them an opportunity to help when there was a sense of helplessness.
“They wanted to help, they wanted to help the community, but they didn’t know how. They didn’t know the established organisations that existed. This platform, this group, has given them that opportunity.
“You see more affluent areas, such as Sutton Coldfield or Moseley, with a charitable trust – I’m not saying the (Erdington) Community Volunteers will become that, but with the networking that’s happened I’d like to see something like that established within Erdington – and to see that as our legacy.
“If anyone wants to help, and we are still desperately looking for volunteers, please get in touch with us via Facebook or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org“
Erdington Community Volunteers
To visit the Erdington Community Volunteers Facebook group, where you ask for help and support during the coronavirus crisis – or offer your services as a volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017
Alternatively, you can email David Owen at the Erdington Community Volunteers group via email@example.com
A directory of all Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce organisations, offering help from employment advice to mental health support, can be found by visiting: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support
Volunteers’ Week runs across the UK from 1st to 7th June – for more information, visit www.volunteersweek.org