THERE are many ‘unsung heroes’ across Warwick district.
To mark National Volunteers Week (June 1 to 7), Helen Wilkinson and Nick Rabson, of Warwickshire CAVA (WCAVA), spent a day visiting some of the volunteers who give their time freely and selflessly, week in week out, to help others in the community, and who have done for many years.
The day started just before 9am with a visit to the Leamington Night Shelter where 13 homeless people had spent the night and were waking up to breakfast provided by a team of committed volunteers, including the amazing duo of Chris Johnson and Margaret Moore. Chris and Margaret set up the night shelter back in February 2009. They were acutely aware at the time that Leamington had a problem of people sleeping out on the streets. They had a job to do at the time convincing others of the scale of the problem, but tirelessly fought their case and opened their doors to rough sleepers for the first time on Sunday February 15. The first night they opened they had five guests who would otherwise have slept in shop doorways or in the park. They cooked a hot meal that night and with an expanded team of volunteers have continued to offer this service at the Methodist Church on the Radford Road for nine years. The shelter now attracts around 30 to 40 guests every Wednesday and Sunday night, with around 15 of these sleeping over. Chris and Margaret not only help out on the evenings and following mornings but also spend many hours in between washing sleeping bags, collecting food donations and keeping the shelter clean and organised.
Straight from the Night Shelter we headed up the Radford Road to Sydenham to the SydniCentre. The centre runs almost entirely on volunteers and always has a real buzz, with dozens of activities taking place for local residents to get involved in. One of the sessions that was running when we arrived was a group offour volunteers packing fruit and vegetable bags for delivery to some of the older residents on the estate for a small fee, who have difficulties getting out and about to the shops. We had the pleasure of meeting two very special volunteers, who go by the title, ‘Team Laurence’. The team constitutes a young volunteer Laurence Walwyn, from Baginton Fields School, and his volunteer support worker Kathie Johnson. Laurence has Down’s Syndrome and autism and attends a special school. With Kathie’s support he is able to make a valuable contribution to the team at Sydni. His enthusiasm is infectious and he provides the energy and strength to carry the boxes of food for Kathie, who in return helps Laurence to stay focussed and to channel his boundless energy into completing the task. In the half an hour that we were with the pair, they sorted, filled and transported over 20 bags of veg for delivery, working alongside two other amazing volunteers.
Next stop was Kenilworth, and to the back of St John’s Church. Concealed behind the church buildings was the most organised and productive porta cabin. The cabin houses a project ‘Tools with a Mission’ for volunteers to recondition old carpentry tools for sending out to developing countries across Africa. Busily working when we arrived, were Graham Sheard and Terry Heath. Both men have volunteered with the organisation for over 13 years. They currently support an additional nine volunteers who drop in to work on the tools on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Kenilworth team recondition and pack around 20 carpentry sets a month for Africa. These sets are used to build homes and furniture across Africa and enable communities to develop and families to make a livelihood. Quite an achievement from such an unassuming, small team.
Straight from Kenilworth to a lunch date in Warwick at the Gap Community Centre on Oakwood Grove where the wonderful Margaret Smith has been volunteering nearly 20 years, providing a lunch club for around 30 local residents. Ably assisted by a band of 6 other volunteers, all of whom help with serving food, organising activities and offering an ear to people in the local community, many of whom are isolated. Margaret and the team open the doors to people from 9.15am and provide friendship, food and activities until around 1.15pm. Margaret commented that when she first started the lunch club there were only 4 small tables in the corner of the hall, whereas now the hall is full and buzzing with people socialising and having a nice time.
From lunch club to bike workshop, and back over to Leamington where Martin Lythell hangs out at the Action 21 bike recycling site in the arches, off Court Street. Martin actually volunteers for five full days a week, such is his love of bikes. Martin retired early aged 61 and for the past five years has been actively involved with Action 21, a local environmental project which also runs the Re-useful shop on Court Street, selling second hand furniture clothes and bric-a-brac. Martin has always been a keen cyclist, and amongst other achievements cycled the three peaks challenge with eight other cyclists who relayed the 402 miles from Fort William to Snowden! At Action 21 Martin supports nine other volunteers to refurbish and service donated bikes for re-sale. They are able to service around 10-15 bikes a week between the team for sale to earn an income for the charity.
Next stop was a real treat for the WCAVA guys, as they got to meet a litter of ten day old guide dogs at the home of Linda and Keith Tindell. Linda and Keith have been volunteering with Guide dogs for 31 years. Having never owned a dog before this they started back in 1987 as puppy walkers, and for the past 25 years as ‘brood bitch holders’. This role involves them raising a mother dog, and supporting her to have a litter of puppies once a year, most of whom will become guide dogs themselves. Linda and Keith have had their current mother dog, a beautiful German Shepherd called Orla for four years now, and are helping her to look after her third litter. However, over the years they have supported 18 litters – or around 160 puppies. They keep the puppies for the first six or seven weeks of their lives before they are placed with puppy walkers and then go into training. The highlight for Linda and Keith is when they hear that one of their puppies has made it to be a working guide dog.
A spot of gardening next in Leamington at the New Street burial ground, where the WCAVA duo got to chat to Mari Hsu. Mari enjoys volunteering outdoors and being close to nature. She moved to Leamington from San Francisco and found an opportunity to help Achieving Results in Communities (ARC) with their Eco-therapy sessions on Thursdays. Mari is now part of the ARC team that meet every Thursday afternoon at New Street Burial Ground between 2pm and 4pm to convert the space from an unwelcoming, over grown site to a pleasant place for the community to use. Mari said ‘anyone can turn up on a Thursday afternoon and pitch in! Being outside and gardening with a friendly team is so therapeutic’.
Last stop of the day for the duo was Lillington Brownies. The team of six volunteer brownie leaders work incredibly hard and support each other to offer a varied fun and educational evening for almost 30 girls. Brown Owl, Alison Wright has been a brownie leader at the Free Church hall Lillington for 24 years. The sessions have always run at the same time and on the same day each week. Over this time Alison has had getting on for 1,000 brownies go through the pack. She loves the fact that her team work so closely together to teach the girls real life skills such as cooking and crafts as well as having loads of fun. Having been a brownie leader for so long, Alison often comes into contact with young women in their 20s and 30s who look strangely familiar. She commented on the fact that a couple of women have started working in her offices at a local solicitors firm, who she remembers being in her brownies!
After a long, tiring but fascinating day, Helen said: “The day was about celebrating all the inspiring work that people do in our community without getting paid for it. People volunteer because they want to help others and enjoy creating and being part of a community. I hope others will be inspired by the range of interesting roles out there.
“At CAVA we have a website with over 400 different volunteering opportunities across Warwick district, including all the projects we have visited today. I would encourage anyone thinking about volunteering to go to the site to search for the perfect role for them, or come and see us at the WCAVA offices on Clemens Street and we can help to fix you up with a role.”
Visit www.wcava.org.uk/volunteering-individuals for further details on volunteering opportunities.