Team Venn - a powerful partnership
Helen and Mike Venn, who have been married for nearly 43 years, have lived in Croxley Green for almost forty years. Mike is retired, having worked in telecommunications/IT, and Helen is a semi-retired primary school teacher. In their retirement they make a significant contribution to the work of Communities 1st, as volunteers, working both as individuals and also together, as a team. They became volunteers in 2020, when, like many people in the face of COVID, they wanted to do their bit. Helen told me that it was very clear that people needed help and “I felt almost a duty to volunteer. It felt good to be useful.” Mike agreed.
Having volunteered in vaccination centres, they have gone on to do many other things. Mike is a volunteer driver and Helen will sometimes be a helper on the trips that he is making. In different ways, and to different extents, both have worked with Afghan refugees and more recently with the International Recruits project supporting new-to-the-UK health and care workers. They have also taken older people on outings. Last Christmas, they joined with other volunteers and staff to wrap up presents at Ver House, the Communities 1st office, and then Mike, wearing his transport hat, helped to deliver some of the parcels.
Humour helps set people at ease
Both Helen and Mike have a good sense of humour. When I spoke with Mike, we laughed a lot! He told me that “I can be firm with my passengers if I need to, but I will also have a smile on my face.” He recounted how on one occasion, when he was taking passengers to a leisure activity, the minibus “was stormed by some fifty people! One person was hiding under a seat!” Mike describes himself as “firm but flexible!”
Helen remembered how, as a COVID volunteer, she helped older patients fill in the support forms. She and “the old ladies - and the men – would often laugh when they got to the question ‘Are you pregnant or think you might be?’ Having a joke was useful because it helped put vulnerable people at ease.”
Mentoring and supporting International Recruits
Mentoring, supporting, and advising international recruits as a Buddy is an area of work which Helen has focused on, while Mike has been involved in providing transport to the recruits.
In August 2022, Helen was introduced to Norma* from Jamaica who had been recruited to work in Watford General Hospital. They have met together on a number of occasions. Helen described to me how she “told Norma about Watford, took her shopping, helped her set up a bank account, showed her the Library, took her to the GP to register, advised on accommodation, and generally made myself available to help.” Helen struck up a good relationship with Norma and is still in touch with her. “When you arrive in a new country there is such a lot to learn,” Helen explained, “I always try and put myself in their position and think about what I would want to know.”
Under the International Recruits project, Helen thinks she has helped around thirteen recruits – both female and male - from India, Zambia, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, and Jamaica. When Helen was teaching, within her school she was the lead teacher for Religious Education so this project means that she can continue her interest in different cultures. She told me, “Last month I was aware of the Muslim festival Eid Al Fitr, so I made a point of wishing my Iranian recruits a happy festival.”
Working together on outings
Mike will do individual drives by himself but often he will work with Helen on outings and trips. They have taken elderly clients and international recruits to Cambridge, St Albans, Hendon RAF Museum, and Bicester Shopping Village, visiting some places more than once. “When you’re driving it is useful to have another pair of hands,” Mike explained. “Things don’t always go to plan and another helper can help. For example, you can’t always find somewhere to park so it’s good if someone can stay with the passengers while I go off and park.” He continued “It is nice when Helen and I can work together and share the experience. The passengers seem to like it too. When Helen’s not on the bus they’ll ask ‘Where’s Helen? Is she alright? Give her my best?’ That’s very nice because you feel part of a team working for a common good.”
Helen agrees. ”We’ve taken older people on day trips. Mike will drive and I’ll help. We go to the place, agree what people want to do, and then have lunch, usually in a pub! Everyone seems to have a good time - and we do too.”
Mike and Helen are aware that volunteering involves a number of responsibilities. “But working together means you can share them,” Mike pointed out. Helen added “You need to be aware of what is going on and understand the implications. But the Communities 1st staff are there to support you too. They are good at keeping in touch and keeping us informed. They are kind and caring and offer great support.”
*Not her real name
Written by Chris Cloke, Communities 1st Volunteer