How best to describe these times? Testing? Unusual? A little bit too apocalyptic for my liking thankyouverymuch?
I’m sure there’s been a point recently when all of us have justified being a bit more self-centred (if not selfish).
When half of Britons suffered from anxiety by the start of lockdown, surely we need to look after ourselves first and foremost? Besides, we aren’t allowed out, so how could we help others anyway?
But it is precisely because these times are so overwhelming that those of us who can help, must.
Volunteering for a charitable organisation is possible during lockdown, even if you have been furloughed. The ABI have also confirmed that you don’t need to contact your car insurer to update your documents or extend your cover if you use your car to volunteer.
The mountain of psychological benefits of volunteering is a nice sweetener, with scientific research finding that volunteering is “significantly predictive of better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, happiness, lower depressive symptoms, psychological distress and mortality and functional disability.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is what is known as a clean sweep.
But there are of course more important reasons to be volunteering.
As we are realising more and more with every passing day, this virus is disproportionate and ruthless in its targeting of the most vulnerable in our society. The sickest, the oldest, the loneliest.
And whilst there was a lot of initial bluster about a new Blitz mentality sweeping across the nation, it subsided somewhat after the avalanche of reports of lockdown flouters, starting with the 3,000 people who felt it was more important to go to Richmond Park than protect those most vulnerable.
But being genuinely proud of our country and our society remains possible. As cliché as it sounds, it starts with us.
So, let’s look at the ways we can help.
You’ve heard of Stay Home Save Lives. Well how about Stay Close To Home, Change Lives…
Ok that was terrible, but the advice across the board from charitable organisations is that staying local is the way to go.
It’s not just about practicalities, although it obviously makes sense in these most lockdown of times to not venture too far from the nest.
But volunteering locally is where you can make the biggest difference.
Organisations like NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) and NAVCA (National Association for Voluntary and Community Action) have excellent search functions, where you can type in your postcode and find a local, trusted charity who need your help. This might range from doing shopping runs or even being one of Age UK’s Telephone befrienders.
Alternatively, the platform Do It connects someone in the UK to a volunteering opportunity every 45 seconds, and has been working alongside the government to connect people to charities, and directly to volunteering opportunities.
One of my favourite organisations that has answered the call over the past month or so is the Covid-19 Mutual Aid Group who appeared practically overnight, posting (sterilized) leaflets through letter-boxes, offering their services for running errands or even just a chat. As described on their website, Mutual Aid is a “horizontal mode of organising, in which all individuals are equally powerful. There are no ‘leaders’ or unelected ‘steering committees’” Their website can connect you to the closest of thousands of mutual aid groups that have sprung up organically since the crisis started.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on the NHS Volunteer Responders website. Although applications have been paused, in order to process the amazing 750,000 initial applications, chances are the website will reopen at some point in the future, perhaps to deal with the second peak, perhaps because not all the responders will be immediately available (a la The Fruitpickers)
If you are heading out to help the vulnerable or work for a charity, its crucial you protect yourself—for your sake and for the people you are helping. To this end, the British Red Cross have created an online training portal, complete with videos, to train you on the best ways to protect yourself before you volunteer.
If you aren’t in a position to volunteer, you can still help by giving to charities. It seems obvious to say it, but charities have had to cancel virtually all their fundraising activities and are strapped for cash right now.
As a starting point, the Charities Aid Foundation have a list of the charities who are doing great work in tackling the crisis.
And, of course, money isn’t the only thing you can donate. The Trussel Trust have over 1,200 food banks in their network, and partner with a lot of the major UK supermarkets, including Tesco and Asda. Find out more on how to donate food on their website.
Don’t forget those in need
We’re approaching an interesting time in the Covid-19 pandemic. The news stories are beginning to focus more on more on how countries are lifting the ban, or how we past the peak, or how Jacinda Ardern continues to absolutely slay.
But just as this pandemic has proven to be disproportionate towards those it has affected, the relief of lockdown restriction will not be felt by all.
In a few weeks, its likely that some of us will be slowly but gleefully returning to normality. Restaurants, parks and bars will be filled. Loved ones will be seen.
But the timeline of those considered “high priority” stretches into months, potentially years. Whilst the majority of people might feel they’ve gotten through the worst of it, for those who need to shield themselves, the challenge will be seeing others return to normality, whilst they remain isolated from society.
They must be remembered.
Even if you don’t join up with some of the wonderful charities or mutual aid groups, what is just as important is being vigilant of those around you. Neighbours, friends and loved ones, who are likely to be in all this for longer. A call goes a long way, the offer of a helping hand goes further.
We need to make sure we are in this together, with no man or woman left behind.