V is also the name by which a very special lady likes to go by when she is doing voluntary work for Communities 1st. Born in Europe, V came to England over 35 years ago and first lived in West London. She explained to me that her name can be quite difficult to pronounce, so when she is volunteering she likes to be known simply as V!
V worked as a travel agent for several years but gave this up to raise her family. Today, V lives in Verulamium - otherwise known as St Albans - and her four children are all grown up. Talking to V, I soon realised that she has a great sense of humour. When I asked her if she had returned to work, she told me that she was “a lady of leisure!” I was to learn that in fact that was far from the truth, and she has never been busier.
As soon as COVID struck, V applied to Communities 1st to be a volunteer. She remembers being interviewed by Tom Watkins who went on to sign her up. She has never looked back. Having not worked for a while, she was a bit nervous about the online training but realised that it was necessary. So, she took a deep breath and got on with it. It wasn’t so bad after all!
To begin with V did shopping for people who were isolating. Often, she would be doing three shops a day, and this could take up a lot of time. “In the early days of the pandemic, I remember having to queue outside supermarkets for an hour and a half! The shopping could take up to five hours,” she explained. V enjoys helping “because the older generation can be very appreciative. I also enjoy the social contact and the opportunities to talk.” She confessed that “I can be a bit of a talker!”
V still does shopping, but she has also moved on to doing other things. When the call went out for volunteers to help at the vaccination centres, she valiantly rose to the occasion and was regularly seen at Batchwood, Stevenage, and Welwyn, and, more recently, at the Maltings and London Colney. She has had a full range of roles – meeting and greeting, escorting people, wiping down chairs, and directing people to where they needed to be. “To begin with it could be quite stressful. There was a lot happening and I was concerned that I didn’t want to pass on COVID. But we took all possible steps to keep everyone safe.”
V was asked if she could help deliver pulse-oximeters when there was no one else available. “I don’t like to say no,” V said, “and when there’s a job that needs to be done, you don’t want to let people down.” She did admit that she has built a rapport with “the young lady who arranges the oximeters delivery” and when it is quite a long way away she does feel she can say “no - but might end up doing it anyway!“
Another example of V’s versatility is driving the Communities 1st minibus to take Afghan refugees on an outing. I was full of admiration for V doing this job, but I was told “Well it was a job that needed to be done, so you just get on and do it. The refugees had been stuck in their hotel so it was important that they could get out. It’s so nice to see the children enjoying themselves.”
As well as helping Communities 1st, V also volunteers at three local foodbanks and helps at the Open Door homeless shelter! She estimates that she spends 10-15 hours a week volunteering. Without doubt, V is very much valued by both Communities 1st and the wider community.
So, what makes V volunteer? “There are lots of reasons,” she explained. “When COVID hit I wanted to do my bit and help others. I wanted to give something back and help make someone’s life easier.” She has certainly done that! V also wanted to get out of the house and volunteering gave her a reason. “I really couldn’t stay at home. My husband, who is very supportive, was working from home during the pandemic so I also wanted to be able to give him some peace and quiet.”
V is also very clear about the benefits of volunteering. “It is good for your own mental health, and you realise how lucky you are. I am a social person and I like the social contact. I just like talking!” She also recognises that volunteering has boosted her confidence and provided her with new challenges. “It really is a win, win situation. I would definitely recommend becoming a volunteer as it does you good to do good.”