Ben started as a volunteer shopper with Communities 1st in 2020, as the Covid epidemic was sweeping the country, and he has continued ever since. Ben, who is in his early forties and living in St Albans, hadn’t done any voluntary work before, but it was a wish to help tackle the pandemic that drove him to put his name forward. He was working from home and had some spare time, so could easily fit in some voluntary work.
Looking back: “it just seemed like the right thing to do and was a good reason for getting out of the house” he explained. “Doing something useful boosted my own morale. I felt like I was part of a wider movement, fighting the pandemic. I had a strong feeling of solidarity.”
Today, Ben works at home one day a week, and that is when he shops for people who can’t get out themselves. Often, they may not be very mobile, are confined to their homes, and may be very isolated. Ben is very clear that even though the COVID restrictions are more relaxed and people are going back to work, “the need for volunteer shoppers is as great as ever”, and he is pleased to help.
“When you arrive with their shopping, people are usually pleased to see you - their faces brighten up. They are appreciative of what you do and that makes you feel good.” Ben continues: “When you shop for someone several times you begin to get to know them, and you can be mindful of any needs that they have. For example, one chap had a fall and was forced to live in his bedroom. He was really in need of physiotherapy, which he eventually got. I did his shopping on several occasions and it was really pleasing to see how he improved.”
Ben finds the people he shops for are overwhelmingly friendly. He remembers that when he became a volunteer, he undertook various training modules, and one was on dealing with difficult, aggressive people. “I think it had been developed by a retired police officer and it was really good,” Ben explained. “It showed you how to stay calm, ask neutral questions, and it gave you confidence. Luckily, I’ve never come across aggressive people but were I to do so, I would be prepared!” Ben has found all the training offered by Communities 1st to be helpful.
Undoubtedly, volunteers like Ben have made a real difference in tackling Covid and supporting vulnerable people so that they can stay safe in their own homes and communities. When the story of the pandemic is written, I hope the part played by volunteers like Ben will be fully recognised. Perhaps Ben can help ensure that in years to come we have good documentary evidence. He is well placed to assist as in his working life he is an archivist with Waddesdon Manor! He also speaks Russian, enjoys folk music, and keeps fit through running. What interesting lives our volunteers lead!
Written by Chris Cloke