Before lockdown I was volunteering sixteen hours a week in a charity shop and looking for part-time work. I think everyone needs a sense of purpose but especially during lockdown, because it was a very uncertain time for everyone. I couldn't work in the shop so applied to loads of different volunteering places and came across Oxford Together on the internet. I could either become a Street Champion or do volunteering where you need a DBS check, which I don't have. So I became a Street Champion and dropped off a hundred flyers in my area, and one gentleman got in touch with me. I started doing his shopping once a week, collecting his prescriptions and being a trusted person to go and collect money for him from his building society. I was doing it on my bike and then, because he knew I had a car, he asked me to start doing bigger shops.
We never talked for very long, but I think from the off he really appreciated me and what I did, and he always expressed that to me when I dropped his shopping round or did anything else for him. Where I live has a good community spirit, but I haven't felt like I've been able to reach out before and help anyone in my local community and Oxford Together enabled me to do that.
Because I didn't hear from anyone else I just was fully concentrated on him, and I think as a result we've built up a better relationship. It gave purpose to the days that I went shopping for him because I knew that he needed me to do it. And I knew that I’d get feedback and appreciation, which was really nice, because not everyone knows how to say thank you. And you know, he said thank you every single time I dropped his shopping round or did something for him, so that just makes you want to do more. A happy workforce is a productive one!
He said that he was really going to miss me when I had to stop a couple of weeks ago. But I'm up at the Neighbourhood Centre on a Tuesday afternoon anyway, and so I thought that I could get him a bag of food from early September and drop that round to him and check in with him. Delivering food parcels to disadvantaged families in the Barton area and beyond from the Neighbourhood Centre - that's not usually something which happens. And we're going to be offering a Community Larder from September onwards on Tuesday afternoons. That's actually grown out of the food parcel deliveries and collections.
At the Neighbourhood Centre, I get a text every week from Sue who runs it asking whether or not I can make Tuesday afternoon to volunteer. She says, ‘Thanks a million’ and it makes all the difference to actually feel appreciated. And when I go there, Tanya is really appreciative too - I got a M&S voucher from them to say thank you, and I also got a goodie bag one week as well. It's not that I expect anything, but it was just such a lovely surprise. I feel more appreciated at the Neighbourhood Centre than I’ve ever done anywhere else. And it actually shows me how much that helps because it means that you are prepared to go the extra mile. Whereas if you don't get any feedback at all, then it's almost like posting things into the ether.
I feel that the Street Champions didn't work that well for me, because I would have liked to have had a few more responses after dropping round a hundred flyers. Maybe the neighbours were helping each other anyway - I don't know - but I was disappointed that I only got one out of a hundred.
You could get in touch with Oxford Together if you needed support and I felt like I could do that, which was good. But because they’ve obviously been so busy they left everyone to their own devices, which I suppose was the point of the Street Champions. I haven't felt much support from Oxford Together apart from if I really needed to change something. I know they have newsletters and things, but I think it would be nice to actually have a personal conversation with someone,
maybe after a month just checking in and saying, “Is everything going okay with you and what you're doing for Oxford Together?” I think that would make all the difference, although I know they're very busy.
One brilliant example of people pulling together and creating art is ‘The Covid Snake’ in Bury Knowle Park in Headington. It’s brought so much joy and positivity to people I feel. During lockdown, when you're just trying to survive like everyone else, to see that colour and that care that people have taken to produce their own rocks and then to put it all together with everyone else's - it's been brilliant.
Now that people haven't been working for a long period, and they've got a lot out of voluntary work, they may even take that forward into their weekly life as well as their job. So I think that's a really positive thing. I personally feel like it has brought out the best in people as well as helping the vulnerable. I've seen a lot of evidence of that. Like when people were printing off my flyers at the beginning; they didn't ask me for any money for anything. That was really nice. It's brought out the best in people working together.