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Your Later Life 2020

Business as unusual for Royal Voluntary Service during pandemic

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Rebecca Kennelly

Director of Volunteering, Royal Voluntary Service

From baking to beatboxing; how The Virtual Village Hall is helping older and isolated people come together to socialise and enjoy activities during COVID-19.

We have a rich history at Royal Voluntary Service of stepping forward to meet the needs of the day, especially during times of crisis.

Originally founded in 1938 as the Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions (WVS), one million ‘Women in Green’ supported communities during the hardships of the Second World War. Over 80 years later, our battle looks very different.

We mobilised quickly to recruit thousands of NHS Volunteer Responders to help fight COVID-19 and protect the 2.5 million most vulnerable and at-risk.

The importance of supporting each other and lending a helping (socially distanced) hand is something we hope continues when things get back to normal.

We’ve made major changes to the regular services we ran long before this crisis unfolded.

In normal times, thousands of volunteers gift their time to our hospital shops, cafés and trolley services, as well as visiting and supporting patients on wards.

In the community, hundreds of lunch clubs would serve hot, nutritious meals to thousands of diners every week.

Other volunteers offered one-to-one support to older people living alone who needed a helping hand.

Now, our volunteers take meals or groceries to the doorsteps of our participants, or call clients each week to have a chat and make sure they’re safe and well.

We created the ‘Virtual Village Hall’

But what about our social activity clubs and groups? It would be so easy to assume that these groups couldn’t possibly continue, but, knowing how important they were to our participants, we were passionate about finding a way to make them happen safely.

We had lots of discussions behind the scenes on how we could make this work and, before we knew it, thanks to vital funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the ‘Virtual Village Hall’ was ‘built’ online.

It helps to combat loneliness and isolation for people over 70 by giving them a place to join in with some fantastic activities, many of which they may never have had the chance to try out before.

Laughter yoga, baking and crafts sessions have all gone online

Visitors have enjoyed everything from cooking, baking and crafts, to laughter yoga and beatboxing.

Many of our participants are shielding and therefore not getting out and about to exercise, so the ‘Move It or Lose It’ chair-based exercise classes in the village hall have proven very popular with them too.

Taking activities online isn’t without challenges, and, although we’ve had the occasional technical hitch (one visitor affectionately asked if we’d lost the keys to the hall!), it’s been wonderful to see people coming together to socialise and support each other during this time of national crisis and uncertainty.

Could COVID-19 bring a volunteering revolution?

The importance of volunteering has been given a huge spotlight during these extraordinary times.

Many people who suddenly find themselves at a loose end through being furloughed or being unable to visit their families as usual have stepped forward to help their neighbours.

We are incredibly grateful to all of our volunteers for the contribution they have made to their communities.

We don’t know when this crisis will be over, but the importance of supporting each other and lending a helping, (socially distanced) hand is something we hope continues when things get back to normal, however that may look.

Many volunteers tell us that they get far more out of volunteering that they put in; their mental health is boosted, and they feel a real sense of purpose helping others.

Our newer volunteers have been pleasantly surprised that their volunteering can slot into their existing commitments; many of them are rethinking their assumption that they had no time to volunteer previously.

Perhaps in another 80 years’ time, we will be able to look back on 2020 as the time that kick-started another volunteering revolution.

Find out more about the Virtual Village Hall by visiting royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/VVH, or search for ‘Virtual Village Hall’ on Facebook. 

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