Reflections on a Week of Gratitude – National Volunteers’ Week 2021

And so 2021 National Volunteers Week is coming to an end. Like the 2020 version, it has had to accommodate the realities of an ongoing pandemic, although that doesn’t seem to have prevented an impressive contribution via social media and digital channels. The 2021 version has had more time to adapt to the limitations of social distancing thus allowing some socially distanced events to also take place.

Here at Groundwork London we have focused all of our National Volunteers’ Week energies on trying to show the incredible level of gratitude to volunteers for the past year. Of course, we could never quite achieve that because the level of gratitude required far surpasses anything attainables immense. June 2020-June 2021 is forever to be known in history as the time of the Covid-19 Pandemic and what has been clear to everyone is how much volunteers have been central to the countries’ Covid Response, both at national and local levels.

Volunteer after volunteer, community group after community group, mutual aid organisation after local sewing club have all stepped up to support people in their time of need. The events across social media and the digital presence throughout this week has reflected the sheer scale of the contribution that volunteering has made to mitigating suffering and pathing the way to return to some form of normality in time. However it will be, new normality will be very different as the immeasurable contribution of volunteers can no longer be taken for granted. Their voices, and the voices of those who support them, have been heard loud and clear this week, and long may it continue.

Volunteering Kingston’s Volunteers’ Week contribution saw us hold pop-up events to say thank you to volunteers. We met with volunteers from Voices of Hope, who transformed from a choir into a food hub and who are now using their skills to support people and communities recovering from the effects of Covid. Volunteers were presented with certificates and had a lovely time in the sun reflecting on the last year and a half. We also visited the New Malden vaccination centre where we were even joined by actor, Peter Egan, who helped us present volunteers giving out certificates and saying thank you to volunteers old and new who have been so essential to our gradual return to normal.

At Volunteering Barnet we have also had a lovely Volunteers Week! On Tuesday & Thursday, VB team members Alice, Rachel and Alice G. visited Gateway Pharmacy, Mango Pharmacy, McParland pharmacy and Barnet Food Hub. It was great for the team to have the opportunity to speak to volunteers and hear how much they have enjoyed giving their time. Alice presented all of them with certificates of thanks and heard from the staff how vital their support has been.

At the Barnet Food Hub, Alice and Rachel had a taste of the hard work volunteers undertake regularly when an unexpectedly large delivery meant they were sorting and packing donated food alongside manager Ollie and the volunteers there! Ollie spoke to us about the impact of the Volunteers and how they have been the driving force of progression behind the project!

Throughout the week, Volunteers’ have shared their stories and experience alongside words of thanks from local organisations, showing just how volunteering has helped careers, mental health, community and the environment. Each volunteer received a thank you card to start the week off and the digital party continued through the week on their social channels.

The VB team shared content from across the borough and their partners as part of this years’ Volunteers’ Week special digital campaign, #atimetosaythanks, celebrating Barnet’s thriving volunteer sector and showing gratitude to the thousands of volunteers that have given their time across the borough!

“Overall, this Volunteers’ Week has been a huge success. We have loved being able to see the amazing levels of commitment and passion our volunteers have delivered across the borough. Thank you to everyone involved, including all our staff at Volunteering Barnet. Happy volunteers week 2021!” – Alice, Volunteering Barnet, Volunteering Brokerage Coordinator

Elsewhere, the Legends of the Forest volunteers in Waltham Forest were treated to surprise visits by the Legends staff team at both the Vaccine Site at Chingford Leisure Centre and the Telephone Check in and Chat call centre at the Magistrates. After many months, our Legends staff finally met our volunteers in person and they could properly congratulate the Legends for their efforts.

Twitter was very chirpy too, with clips and posts featuring our Legends in action:

850 thank you cards were also sent out accompanied by ‘I am a legend of the Forest’ enamel badges to all those who have volunteered since March 2020 to wear with pride!

Meanwhile, with events ground to a halt since the pandemic began in 2020, the Team Westminster Ambassadors haven’t had the involvement across London events that they are so committed to supporting every year. But they have been very busy delivering their Mentors initiative which started to help alleviate stress and isolation between the volunteers during lockdowns. This Volunteers Week, Team Westminster have been looking back at the virtual activity on Zoom which help keep them connected and maintain their unique Ambassador spirit. To say a big thank you to each of them for their ongoing commitment, Team Wesminsters’ Sophie and Meryl delivered a virtual tea party (Zoom capture below) and presented each volunteer with special thank you card filled with goodies!

Team Westminster Active hasn’t had the chance to be as ‘active’ in the last year either with events cancelled and restrictions still in place for some, however, their continued commitment and support across the community and its’ organisations has not gone unnoticed. Enjoy the Volunteers’ Week video that Westminster Actives’ Anna and the team created below to say a big thank you alongside all the organisations across the borough! Well done Team Westminster!

The new-found understanding in the scale of volunteer commitment over the last 12 months has provided new learnings for everyone across the UK. Volunteers across the country have impacted us all in some form; delivering your food or medicines, supporting your neighbours, your medical professionals, pharmacies, befriending those who were isolated, across the overall Covid-19 relief, and that’s all before the ongoing need for support across the many many charities and foundations who rely on volunteers to keep going day-to-day. What has accompanied that commitment is a  bond between volunteer and those receiving assistance like we’ve never seen witnessed as such a public level before. The compassion displayed by those in a position to assist despite their own personal circumstances and challenges presents us all with an inspiring example to follow.

The ongoing challenges of Covid-19 have changed not only the health landscape but also the national psyche, rendering irrelevant forever the stereotypes of what constitutes a volunteer, a professional, or those in need. Class, age, race, gender; whilst all are still important to us in defining and embracing our diversity, volunteers across the board have shown that simple humanity comes to aid when needed, whatever the circumstances that endure.

National Volunteers Week has become more relevant with each passing year, especially when considering the barriers redefined by the pandemic. However, like the way we have overcome the challenges of supporting our communities in both 2020 and 2021, we can, with even more belief in our abilities than ever, make every National Volunteers Week a resounding success!

From Groundwork Londons’ Volunteering Kingston, Volunteering Barnet, Waltham Forest’s Legends’ of the Forest and Team Westminster!