We asked our volunteers at Wakefield what it was like volunteering during a pandemic and becoming an essential worker overnight.
I have to confess to feeling slightly guilty at how much I enjoyed doing shifts during lockdown. When dog-walking was the highlight of my day, often only calling at one or two local shops each week for supplies, the thought of actually getting into the car and driving to the operations room where I’d see another person (albeit at the required distance), was really quite exciting. However, for the first few weeks of ‘hard lockdown’, every journey made me slightly anxious. I made sure I carried my Samaritans ID and the letter which confirmed Samaritans volunteers were allowed to do shifts as I was convinced that I’d be stopped by the police and asked to justify my journey, especially when I travelled late at night. In fact, I was never stopped and the main problem with my journey was ensuring I didn’t get a speeding ticket as I made my way from the office to the motorway when the dual carriageway was empty and I just wanted to get home!
I felt that I was privileged to be in a position where I could offer a listening ear and happy to be doing something, however limited, at a time when we all needed the support of others.
Jennifer, Wakefield Samaritans Volunteer
Many calls I took in the early days of lockdown concentrated on isolation and made me realise just how important simple social contact is for our psychological and physical well-being. Isolation encouraged some to reassess their lives and such reassessment led to conversations which went from heartbreaking with some who felt trapped, to optimism with those who had a vague idea of what they wanted but had never taken the time to consider how to achieve their goals.
The impact on those currently in prison was also pronounced to me. Many were locked in their cells for long hours, with phone calls representing their only form of communication with the outside world and, of course, the Samaritans number is free. Why concentrate on working out in your cell if there’s no one you can tell about your progress, how fit you feel and how it’s opened your mind to the possibility of sports management in the future? It seemed that, just as ‘on the outside’, having time to think had encouraged individuals to consider the nature of their lives so far and to establish the ways in which they could ensure a better future.
For me, calls varied as they do every shift. Some were challenging especially when people had very serious practical issues like unemployment, debt or inability to access mental health services – the pandemic had made these more pronounced for some. Other calls were positively uplifting. I felt that I was privileged to be in a position where I could offer a listening ear as I didn’t have to shield, and I was also happy to be doing something, however limited, at a time when we all needed the support of others.
Help us be there for those who need us.