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  • Oxford Together Stories

Someone To Do Things For

You forget that you can just do that, you can just ask a neighbour and more than likely, they will say, ‘Yeah, I can help you with that.’ It was nice to be reminded of that, especially when loads of other stuff is going on in the world.

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I work part-time at a school and I’m studying for a Master’s part-time at the University. My week is basically split between going to Abingdon to work and going into Oxford to study, and actually not much has changed in lockdown. I’m still splitting my time exactly that way, I’m just not going anywhere! I love the Oxford Hub, I think it’s a really, really great organisation. So I’m always on the lookout for ways that I could get involved with them a bit more. And so when that opportunity came up to help out with Oxford Together, I already knew the organisation, and then they presented a really nice opportunity to be helpful during a pretty weird time.

I got in touch with them, and they sent out a form for anyone that was interested. They gave a number of opportunities, and so it was really nice that I could pick one that suited me. There were lots of things going around, like being an NHS volunteer, but I’d have needed a car, or calling people, and I’m not the most outgoing person. I wasn’t brave enough to be someone that was willing to chat on the phone regularly. So it was nice that I could be a practical support volunteer, because it was a bit more personal. Everyone that had recently signed up, we all had a big chat, and they sent around a lot of information to get you started and how to go about it in a way that protects you the volunteer, and also just general logistics and things. I had already been DBS checked. Then after that, I had a phone call with someone from the Oxford Hub when they matched me up with someone that lives nearby. I expressed my interest fairly early on, and then it took a while to match me. But in the meantime, my street set up a WhatsApp chat, and a Facebook group. And in that they mentioned that it was to do with Oxford Together, too. Recently I’ve also signed up as a prescription runner.

So, after my phone call with Oxford Hub, they passed me the address and phone number of the person who needed help, and then I just rang them and had a chat, found out what they needed. We didn’t have too long a chat that time, but then we set up a WhatsApp chat between the two of us. Every now and then, I’ll be sent a message, just asking for a couple of things, here and there, that they need picked up from the shop, or a prescription that needs picking up, and recently it’s been posting some things to their family in Germany. We have little chats on there every now and then, and sometimes when I drop things off, she’ll poke her head out the window, and we’ll have a little talk there as well. Which is nice, because I didn’t want to intrude too much, I haven’t been knocking on their door and seeing them every time I drop something off. So it’s been nice whenever we do bump into each other, when we can wave and have a chat.

What I do for them is ad hoc, because they’re getting deliveries themselves anyway. One of them is undergoing treatment, and I think every now and then they just have a craving for something.

The first time it started getting really hot, they wanted some ice lollies. I normally do something for them probably at least once a week, but we’ll chat a little bit more than that. Every now and then I’ll check in. If I haven’t heard from them for a little while, I’ll just drop them a message and see how they’re doing and see if things are going okay, because it must be quite lonely, shielding. And every now and then they’ll send me a picture from their grandchildren. Every now and then we’ll talk about some other things as well, so because I’ve been studying, and there was a time when I was really busy with assignments, they were giving me some encouragement along the way.

We get pretty regular updates through the Hub. I get email updates, and they set up a sort of peer support scheme, just in case anyone wanted to chat through problems or just wanted to share things. I didn’t take part in that actually, it was a really nice idea, but I wasn’t having any issues. I think they set it up really well in the beginning, so it didn’t need too much support going forward, though they’ve definitely offered it. One of the helpful things that might seem very minor, that they shared with us in their briefing document, were these protocols. Just sort of disinfecting things before you pass them on to anyone else and protocols for knocking on someone’s door and leaving something. And it might seem like common sense, but it was really nice to have that reassurance, and to know that I was doing something in an approved way, because these people are shielding. But there’s also been an openness with which we can offer support and the way that volunteering has been allowed to go. I feel like it could have been quite prescriptive, but the fact that it was quite open has facilitated a range of ways for people to offer support, which is really cool.

One of the classic things to do with volunteering, is the sort of selfish positive boost that you get out of doing a good deed. I don’t mean selfish in a bad way, just that by doing something for someone else, you get a nice feeling from it. One of the other changes for me that I was thinking about was sort of getting out of my own bubble a little bit and interacting with and building a relationship with some people that I probably never would have otherwise had the chance to, especially someone of a different age to me. I thought about it when we had a chat the other day about figuring out how to pay each other for something. Their go-to is using cash. I basically never have any cash on me, I’m always using card. And so we just had a bit of a chat about how that’s potentially a generational thing, and they were saying how I must find them really old-fashioned or something, and it made me think about how there’s probably loads of ways that we go about our life differently that I’m not normally exposed to. It doesn’t have to be something major, it’s just thinking a bit differently, thinking about how things affect someone else differently. I feel like these are the kind of the jobs that you would do for a neighbour, but you’d also probably do them for family. I don’t have any grandparents that are alive. It’s nice to have someone else to do things for.

I don’t want to oversell it and say, ‘Yeah, I’m totally on board with loads of my neighbours now!’ Like I said, I’m not super outgoing. For other people, that might be the case, but for me it’s just knowing it’s there. I know that I could contact our street if I needed something. They’ve set up fortnightly deliveries of eggs and strawberries, which has been really, really cute, and so when we go and collect those, we’ll have a nice chat with the person that set it up. Another time, the people that I’m helping needed a thermometer, because theirs was running out of battery and they’d just come back from hospital and really needed to take their temperature regularly. It was at that time where everything like that had sold out and I couldn’t find one anywhere. I went on this big cycle ride around loads of different shops. In the end, I just put a message on the Facebook group for my street and within ten minutes, someone had said, ‘I’ve put it in your letterbox, it’s ready to go.’ It was so nice. You forget that you can just do that, you can just ask a neighbour and more than likely, they will say, ‘Yeah, I can help you with that.’ It was nice to be reminded of that, especially when loads of other stuff is going on in the world.

Edited by Sofia Smith-Laing


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