For Volunteers' Week 2021, we're reflecting on the amazing work of our volunteers in the past 12 months, touching upon the impact of the pandemic on our community and their volunteering role.
Further stories are shared in our second blog.
At Crohn’s & Colitis UK, as with many other charities, the majority of our volunteer activity has been suspended due to government restrictions on social mixing. However, although the past 12 months have been exceptionally difficult for people affected by Crohn’s and Colitis, some of our volunteer roles and activities have been able to continue. This has allowed several of our fantastic volunteers to continue to make a huge difference for the Crohn’s and Colitis community. This Volunteers' Week, we wanted shine a light on this great work and give thanks to those volunteers who patiently are waiting in the wings to return to their volunteering roles when the situation allows it, hopefully soon!
How has volunteering changed in the last 12 months?
I’ve missed not being in the office as I lost my routine, something I felt was worthwhile doing and the social interaction of all the lovely people who work there. When we're able to return to the office I am looking forward to the social aspect of it; which I have very much missed during the pandemic.
I’ve been working from home and without the daily commute I’ve been more available for calls than previously. Every caller has been affected by the pandemic in some way, often making an already difficult situation more so.
The helpline volunteering role had not changed over the last 12 months as it was always a working from home service. Although we had to shut down the line initially due to lack of volunteers to run the line due to people dealing with their own situations relating to covid we did reopen by the summer as it’s so important to be able to support those who need it as covid has perhaps brought more challenging times emotionally for people than ever before
Tell us about the new virtual socials we've been hosting through the pandemic.
I never got to attend the in-person events as a volunteer so my main volunteering activity has been supporting virtual events. This was ideal as I was in the extremely vulnerable category list so was shielding for all of lockdown. I enjoy facilitating the events because you get to meet and talk to a range of different people, all with varying experiences and journeys of living with or supporting someone with Crohn's or Colitis. It's always great to share these experiences and if that helps even just one person, then that's a job well done.
While we can't meet people face to face, if we are able to put on virtual events, it lets people know that they can share experiences in a safe place with others who have similar experiences.
I wanted to be able to apply my experience to this new virtual world and still be able to give something back. Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis can be isolating conditions at the best of times, let alone in a pandemic, and I really wanted to help support others. It’s a really rewarding role, just being able to feel you’ve helped out a little bit and supported someone that may not have had an outlet or spoken up before. There’s a great sense of community and there’s always something new to learn too!
How have you kept active in your local network volunteering without physical events?
We created a video for World IBD Day 2020 with us each passing a toilet roll virtually and inviting everyone to #RollWithUs and get involved in their own awareness activity, from wearing purple while out for their daily exercise to holding a virtual coffee morning. I have also continued to write our newsletters, updating local members on what we have been up to and what we are hoping we will be able to do in the not-too-distant future.
I am looking forward to getting back to the monthly get-together that our network organises and cheering at the London Marathon. The monthly coffee morning is a good opportunity to catch up on events within the world of Crohn’s and Colitis. New people would turn up every month to discuss what they are going through as a result of recent diagnosis or long-term issues.
I have missed attending the London marathon as I have personally run the marathon many times before and family and friends used to come and watch me run. I now go and watch them run with Crohn's & Colitis UK. It’s a really great day out which hopefully will return soon.
I am admin for the Northern Ireland Local Network Facebook page posting daily and answering messages. Our Network are still planning ways to support our community once we are able to resume in person events.
How has the pandemic affected your volunteering?
I’ve really missed the opportunities to see other helpline volunteers in person at training weekends as they are so valuable and part of the year that I look forward to. Volunteering during a pandemic has only reiterated to me the importance of the service, as well as how much I love and miss the community feel of seeing other volunteers.
Information has been such a critical source of support for the Crohn’s and Colitis community over the past twelve months. Our Reader Volunteers and Editorial Board have played a vital part in creating this information – Reader Volunteers are the voice of those affected by the conditions, and make sure the information is clear and jargon free, and the Editorial Board with their medical oversight, ensure the information is accurate and up to date. We know this has been a year like no other for our community and we’re very proud of the part our volunteers have played in our response to it.
It has felt extremely important for the service to carry on offering this safe, confidential space during what has been a very challenging and worrying time for people with chronic health conditions. I am proud to say that I’ve played a small part in keeping the service going.
I also support the with the IBD Nurse advice line training programme. We worked hard to bring a high quality training to the virtual landscape, and we held our first virtual session in April 2021. Despite a few tech issues (surprise surprise!) the event was a success, and I am excited to be involved in taking the programme forward.