"An unusual Volunteers' Week but recognising the contribution of volunteers has never seemed more important."
Catherine Semmence, Head of Volunteering at OSJCT, talks about the importance of our volunteers and some of her experiences working with them over the past year.
I’m sure that for everyone reading this right now, life has changed in some way over the last few months. 1-7 June is Volunteers’ Week, a national event in its 36th year. Its sole purpose is to recognise, celebrate and thank the millions of volunteers across the UK. It feels like there has never been a more poignant time to do this, given the unprecedented numbers of people stepping up to support those that need a helping hand in their community.
I joined OSJCT one year ago to the day. Joining during Volunteers’ Week couldn’t have been better timing. A first week in a new job can often be daunting, but not for me. I got to spend it meeting hundreds of welcoming, inspiring, interesting and skilled people who regularly give up their time to support our residents and employees in so many ways.
Of course, Volunteers’ week this year is very different. I won’t be able to catch up with any of our amazing volunteers in person. But what I do know, is that they are busy volunteering in some capacity, albeit in a different way to before. Some are in our homes helping our residents carry on as normal, and let me tell you, ‘normal’ in an OSJCT home usually involves a whole heap of laughter! For those who can’t volunteer in their usual way, they’re busy writing cards or keeping in touch with residents via Zoom. Others are waving through closed windows or leaving sweet treats and notes at the door. Whatever their volunteering looks like right now, it’s making a difference in someone’s life.
When I asked employees why volunteers are so important in their home, there is no hesitation, the answers just roll off their tongue;
“We could not run our home in the way we do without volunteers…. they’re always smiling and joining in with activities or trips with the residents.”
“Volunteers help bring the local community into our home. Communities that many of our residents grew up in, so they are able to share stories, even though these sometimes-happened generations apart!”
“Where do I start? Put simply they’re a valued part of our home team.”
I’m often asked what the best bit of my job is. It’s always an easy answer. It’s hearing stories about how a volunteer has made a specific difference in someone’s life. I hear lots of amazing stories every day , but I want to share just one, because for me it demonstrates perfectly the impact that our volunteers have.
Gabi is a volunteer in one of our Oxfordshire homes. When Jakub moved into the home for some respite care, he knew only a little bit of English, having grown up and lived in Poland for most of his life. Gabi, also a Polish national, discovered the language barrier and immediately made it her mission to help him settle in.
She spent time chatting with him, over Polish treats she brought in to give him some memories of home. She also brought in a Polish to English translation dictionary which got well used by Jakub and the home team, both learning a little of the other’s mother tongue.
Lyndsay, who is the home manager told me, “It is inspiring seeing how our volunteers can make such a huge difference to our residents’ lives. Gabi made the transition of moving into a home for a respite stay so much smoother for the resident; she chatted away with him, put him at ease and made him feel at home.”
So, all that is left to say is thank you, to every one of our incredible 836 volunteers! This week we’ll be celebrating you and all you do for our residents. Our Chief Executive, Dan Hayes sums it up perfectly in his video when he says: “Just think of the party at the end of this all, when we can all come back together”.