Elly might have helped you at a vaccination centre or brought you your shopping. Many more of you may have heard her voice on local radio! Elly O’Mera is a volunteer with both Communities 1st and Radio Verulam! Like many volunteers, Elly supports more than one group and her experience highlights the potential benefits for both the volunteer and the organisations.
Elly has lived in St Albans for the past 22 years; she started volunteering partly to help the community and partly as a response to the pandemic. She had held a job in the corporate sector for 25 years, where she relocated people all over the world. She decided to take voluntary redundancy without much of a future plan, but clear that she wanted to do something different! She left her job in early 2020, and with the uncertainty of the pandemic looming, decided that she would do some volunteering whilst contemplating “what next”. She successfully applied for a volunteer co-ordinator role at Radio Verulam, hoping that her HR skills would be useful.
Shortly afterwards COVID hit the UK. Feeling strongly that she wanted to be a practical part of the wider fight against the virus, she became a volunteer with Communities 1st. “To begin with, I helped with the recruitment of volunteers – carrying out telephone interviews, checking their suitability, and following up references. All very important. We were responding to a massive number of applications and because of the huge need for volunteers we wanted to turn things around quickly.”
It wasn't long before Elly wanted to be more hands on. At first, she did shopping and prescription collection for vulnerable people, “but I wanted to help out in the vaccination centres doing whatever was needed to get everyone vaccinated - I wanted to be in the action!” In March 2021 she started doing shifts at the Batchwood Vaccination Centre. Elly speaks with passion: “I loved it! There was such a strong sense of community. We worked hard and often went home exhausted, but I felt that I had really played a part in the almighty nationwide push to overcome the pandemic.”
Although I find it difficult to believe, Elly tells me that she is a bit of an extrovert and that this volunteer role played to her strengths, “I did a wide range of jobs. Helping with carparking and directing traffic. Directing people to the right place to get the appropriate form for their vaccination. Sometimes the people turning up hadn’t been out for a very long time, so all the volunteers and staff tried to make the experience positive. They were very appreciative – which was important to the volunteers. Plus, I really enjoyed wearing the high vis jacket!”
Elly doesn’t do so much work on COVID now but continues to be a “telephone befriender” to Daphne, a woman in her mid-eighties who has recently had heart problems. Elly explained: “I telephone Daphne a couple of times each week and this works very well. A bit like me, Daphne is a feisty lady and I love talking to her. We chat, laugh, giggle and have become firm friends.”
For Elly, volunteering with two organisations has been an opportunity to learn a lot. She confessed to me that she “didn’t know a huge amount about either Radio Verulam or Communities 1st before she started. But being a volunteer has opened my eyes and I have become so much more aware of the community and what goes on.” She continued: “I feel that I have done something to help make the world a better place and that gives you a sense of pride. As a volunteer, you want to help people, but you also want to do something for yourself. That is important and very valid.” Elly commented that since she started volunteering many people have told her: “I’ve never seen you looking so well and happy!”
Elly has fully immersed herself in the world of Radio Verulam, and whilst it was a learning curve for her, she joined the Board of Directors in 2020 and became Chair in 2021. She also joined the presenting team in 2021 and now hosts the breakfast show two mornings a week! Elly broadcast from Batchwood Vaccination Centre on its last day, interviewing some of the key people involved at the site. When the booster programme was introduced, Elly also did a programme at the Civic Centre, where she had been a volunteer.
“Communities 1st and Radio Verulam already work closely together but through my experience with both I know there is potential for us to do a lot more,” Elly concluded. I was left with no doubt that if there’s an opportunity, Elly would make it happen. She is determined and a strong advocate not only for both groups but for the whole community.
Written by Chris Cloke