Community Action Network celebrates the contribution of thousands of local volunteers during the pandemic to mark Volunteers’ Week 2021 (1-7 June)

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the voluntary sector in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole has seen thousands of volunteers stepping up to help fight COVID-19. These community heroes have played a vital role in the response to the COVID-19 challenge and as they continue to do so Community Action Network (CAN) wants to recognise their work during Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June).

Over 3325 volunteers supported Together We Can, the local community response to the pandemic; nearly 2000 volunteers were involved in the vaccination programme at the BIC and other venues; and thousands more have given their time to community initiatives and ongoing work to help those most in need.

Karen Loftus, Chief Executive of CAN said: ‘We have been blown away by the response of local people to the pandemic here at CAN. Across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, thousands of people have taken on new volunteering roles to help those most in need, and thousands more have adapted their existing volunteering roles to continue providing essential support. Whether delivering food parcels, befriending those who are lonely, supporting people to stay connected online, helping young people with their wellbeing and mental health, or hosting virtual events and activities, local volunteers have quite simply been amazing.’

Sasha, a volunteer at Bournemouth Samaritans said: “I am so proud of all our volunteers, both listening and support, who were able to keep going into branch each week throughout the lockdown. Whether it has been the director or our dedicated group of cleaners, it has been incredible. We all volunteer our time and continue to be there for everyone who feels they are struggling emotionally.”

Case studies

After an unusually challenging year, CAN has chosen four charities for its Community Hero in The Spotlight initiative this month, to shine a spotlight on their amazing volunteers during Volunteers Week 2021. The Samaritans Bournemouth Caring Canines, STARS and The Wave Project are just a few examples of local charities that recognise that volunteers are the heart of their teams.

During the lockdown, the Bournemouth Samaritans kept their branch safely open with appropriate measures in place for their volunteers to do what they do best – taking calls from people who are struggling emotionally. This year, the Samaritans of Bournemouth are celebrating their 60th anniversary and proudly report that in 2020 they answered over 13,930 telephone calls, sent over 736 texts, and responded to more than 9055 emails. The commitment and dedication the 170+ volunteers have shown is truly amazing and CAN is happy to be here not only to celebrate them but thank them too.

Caring Canines is a Bournemouth-based charity committed to promoting canine awareness and its value through dog-assisted therapy. Caring Canines’ activity was affected by the COVID-19 restrictions, but the charity continued to offer support to its members in other ways. Volunteers took calls on the Caring Canines’ telephone contact line up to three times a day for every day of the week. Although their dog-assisted therapy visits were interrupted, permanent contact was maintained through emails, videos, cards, letters, photos and garden visits when the restrictions were lifted.

Louise is a Caring Canines volunteer who made garden visits when restrictions allowed during the pandemic: “We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Caring Canines for an amazing journey – for their kindness and dedication to this unique and valuable contribution to the community. We have enjoyed visiting the Memory Café in Ferndown and latterly the nursing home - to see the joy on the residents’ faces is heartwarming.”

The Wave Project is an award-winning UK wide charity that aims to improve the lives of young people aged 8-18 through evidence-based surf therapy. The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on young people’s mental health and wellbeing, so services like the Wave Project’s Surf Therapy and Surf Club are in high demand.

This has led The Wave Project and its volunteers to step up and offer additional support beyond their seasonal six-week Surf Therapy courses and weekly Surf Clubs. During the cold months of winter and unfavourable sea conditions the charity aren’t always able to deliver their usual services. However, they continue to offer support to children through their weekly Skate Club sessions which are led by Richard Pugh, known as the ‘Happy Skateboarder’.

Surf sessions were also set up during February and March, within government guidelines, and were specifically designed in response to the pandemic and its effects on young people’s wellbeing. These sessions involved young people and volunteers who provided support and encouragement for the young surfers.

Julie enthusiastically speaks about her volunteering experience: “Wave Project is special to all who volunteer, not just because it’s helping local young people grow in confidence or reduce their anxiety but because of the community the project creates. This community is a big part of why I volunteer. I love seeing young people make new friends during Wave’s sessions. I also love it when they return as peer mentors, they made the decision to give back and help others their age. That’s really powerful”.

STARS – Sexual Trauma and Recovery Service has been supporting people who have experienced any form of sexual violence for over 30 years and their work would not be possible without their amazing volunteers, who share their time and skills to help the local community. The charity has provided vital support during the pandemic, although it was not a simple task. In 2020, STARS moved into two new centres and continued to recruit and train volunteers, which led them to achieve the Investing in Volunteers Quality Standard.

During the first lockdown, more people were able to access the charity’s listening services as STARS increased their Support Line service and doubled the opening hours, and over 120 counselling clients were supported.

Victoria, a STARS volunteer says: “Here I am nearly two years into the role. I love working with the children and young people. The whole STARS team is absolutely fantastic, you can feel the warmth and support radiating around the place. We laugh, a lot, sometimes cry but I always know we have each other’s back, I couldn’t wish to work for a better organisation”.