Saying thank you this Volunteers’ Week

Charlotte leads our volunteer involvement across Sense. She talks about how vital volunteers are to Sense and the challenges we’ve faced over the last year.

This Volunteers’ Week I’m feeling especially grateful for the amazing people who volunteer at Sense.

I’ve been overwhelmed by our volunteer’s support over the last year. Our brilliant volunteers have stuck with Sense through the pandemic and the many changes that it’s brought.

But how has volunteering at Sense changed during the pandemic?

Well, we’ve had to adapt a lot! It’s meant adapting our face-to-face roles to virtual opportunities, and creating new volunteering opportunities, such as Virtual Buddying and community volunteering roles in our Sense Fundraising Groups. We’ve developed more flexible ways of volunteering to make it easier for people to get involved.

Keeping our charity shops going through lockdown 

Over 1,000 fantastic people volunteer in our charity shops across England and Wales. Due to various lockdowns, our charity shops have closed and reopened three times in the last year, and I think it’s incredible that our volunteers have stuck with us through this time. It’s also been a real pleasure to welcome a number of new volunteers to our shops.

Volunteering in the shops looks different to before (think more PPE and less handshaking), but this hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of our volunteers!

When I started volunteering with Sense back in 2014, I didn’t think it would lead me to where I am today. I had just moved in with my partner and left my old job in retail. Walking down the high street presented me with plenty of opportunities but none seemed to really fit. When I went into the Sense shop, it felt like another world. It was big and busy with friendly staff and I knew that this is where I would like to spend my time.

Sense volunteer

Staying connected virtually 

For a while, the pandemic put to stop to any face-to-face volunteering, which led to a lot of social isolation and loneliness. But how did we get around this and make sure people with complex disabilities were keeping connected?

We were really excited to launch our Virtual Buddying service last June. This matches a disabled person with a volunteer to socialise virtually – something we all got used to last year.

70 volunteers got involved in this great new initiative and meet up virtually with their buddies to bake cakes, take part in exercise classes, play games, watch films and craft together – to name just some of the activities!  

Volunteering is always a challenge for me as there isn’t much free time at university. When I received the email about Sense Buddying, I decided to make time for the things I am passionate about. Being a buddy for a young person is a huge responsibility but for me, it is so meaningful. Just taking the time to talk, has helped my young person to feel less isolated and alone. I am so happy I made the decision to volunteer for Sense and hope it will continue for years to come.Sense Buddying volunteer

Getting back to face-to-face support 

A man and a boy standing together with theatre seats in the background
A face-to-face volunteer with their buddy

Our face-to-face buddying activities adapted over the last year so we could still virtually support young people across East London.

Now restrictions are lifting and buddies can start to do lots of great activities together, like having fun their local parks and having a nice meal in a café.

Reducing loneliness and building confidence have just been two of the great ways our buddying programme has impacted the young people’s lives. I’ve been so inspired to see this support continue over the past year.

You can’t underestimate what an impact you will have on your buddy’s life, you can be their role model and form part of their support system and help them build more independence. In addition, the time you spend with your buddy might be the only time during the week their parents/carers have to themselves which is really valued.

Sense volunteer

Volunteers are a key part of our Sense Holidays, and we were disappointed that we couldn’t run our Sense Holidays last year. This year they’re back on, and I can’t wait to hear all of the fun activities our volunteers get up to.

Feeling like my family and many others with disabled children have been forgotten has been the worst part of the pandemic. The public inquiry into Covid-19 next year is an opportunity to have our voices heard. But I’m concerned that unless the inquiry is run by a panel of people that includes disabled people, our experiences will be overlooked again. 

Could you be a Sense volunteer?

We’re always looking for new volunteers to join our team and support people with complex disabilities. Why not find out more about how you could get involved.