As we enter National Volunteers Week (June 1-7) Helen Wilkinson and Nick Rabson, of Warwickshire CAVA (WCAVA), spent a day visiting some of our unsung heroes across the district. These are people who give their time freely and selflessly, week in week out, to help others in their community, and who have continued to do this for many years.
The day started just before 9am with a visit to the Leamington Night Shelter at Radford Road Church, where 13 homeless people had spent the night and were having breakfast provided by volunteers, including Chris Johnson and Margaret Moore. Chris and Margaret set up the night shelter back in February 2009. The first night they opened they had five guests. With an expanded team of volunteers they have continued to offer this service at the church for nine years. The shelter now has around 30 to 40 guests every Wednesday and Sunday night, with around 15 sleeping over. The couple not only help out on the evenings and mornings but also spend time in between washing sleeping bags and collecting food donations.
From the Night Shelter we headed to the Sydni Centre in Sydenham. The centre runs almost entirely on volunteers and hosts activities. One of the sessions that was running when we arrived was a group of four volunteers packing fruit and vegetable bags to deliver to some of the older residents on the estate, who have difficulties getting to the shops. This is done for a small charge. We had the pleasure of meeting two volunteers, who go by ‘Team Laurence’; Laurence Walwyn, from Baginton Fields School, and his volunteer support worker Kathie Johnson. Laurence has Down’s Syndrome and autism and with Kathie’s support he helps the team at the centre.
Next stop was Kenilworth to the back of St John’s Church. Concealed behind the church was the most organised and productive portable cabin. The cabin houses a project ‘Tools with a Mission’ where volunteer recondition old carpentry tools to send 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 team recondition and pack around 20 carpentry sets a month for Africa.
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. Margaret is assisted by a band of six 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 four 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 the lunch club we head back over to Leamington where Martin Lythell helps out at the Action 21 bike recycling site in the arches, off Court Street. Martin volunteers for five full days a week, such is his love of bikes. He 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 Snowdon. At Action 21 Martin supports nine other volunteers to refurbish and service donated bikes for resale. 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 Warwickshire CAVA guys, as they got to meet a litter of nine, 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 puppies once a year, most of whom will become guide dogs. Linda and Keith have had their current mother dog, a German Shepherd called Orla for four years, and are helping her to look after her third litter. Over the years they have supported 18 litters (or around 160 puppies). They keep the puppies for the first six to seven weeks before they are placed with puppy walkers and then go into training. The highlight for the couple 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 Warwickshire CAVA 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 its 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, overgrown 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 37 10-year-old 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 closely together to teach the girls skills such as cooking and crafts as well as having 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 said 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 the Warwickshire CAVA team want to say thank you to all the amazing people they met.
Helen Wilkinson, volunteering co-ordinator at Warwickshire CAVA said: “Today 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 Warwickshire CAVA offices on Clemens Street, Leamington, and we can help to fix you up with a role.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with CAVA can access the various volunteering opportunities on the Warwickshire CAVA website.
To visit the website go to: www.wcava.org.uk/volunteering-individuals