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Child exploitation

How volunteering can offer us a way to connect during a time of crisis

A person wearing a "Volunteer" t-shirt holds out a clipboard to someone who is signing up to offer their time.

Sarah Parker is the Volunteer Coordinator of Catch22’s Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Child Exploitation and Missing service. For Volunteers Week 2020, she tells us why volunteers make all the difference to our services.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK, the government appealed for 250,000 volunteers to help support the NHS. The morning papers the next day reported that 170,000 people had already responded and in total, there were over 750,000 offers of support over the next week – three times more than were needed. It seems volunteering has offered us a way to connect with each other and with our community at a time of global crisis.

Reports state that many of these volunteers are now feeling frustrated because they have not been called upon. Whilst it should be a cause of celebration that the NHS has been able to cope so much better than many had feared it might, this frustration is born out of a deep desire to express solidarity with others and to help and support those who are in more difficult situations than ourselves right now. Volunteers are disappointed because they wanted to be able to make a difference.

This is what volunteering does for us:

  • It connects us with people from our community, giving both those who need help and those who give help a greater sense of belonging.
  • It is a practical solution to real, material problems. It matches people with time, skills and experience to people or projects in need of support and input.
  • It makes us all feel good. Those who receive support know that someone cares enough to be there even though they are not being paid. Those who give support have the satisfaction of knowing that they have been able to make a difference to someone else at a difficult point in their life.

You may know the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’: connect; be active; take notice; learn; give. For me, volunteering covers each of these five ways, helping us but also helping others at the same time.

In our Catch22 Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Child Exploitation and Missing service, we use volunteer mentors to support children and young people who don’t meet the threshold for case work, who need additional support on top of existing case work, or as part of the step-down after case work. Our mentors enable us to do all those extra little things that we know young people want and need but our case workers don’t always have time to provide. And they are all brilliant! During the COVID crisis, there are mentors making and delivering wellbeing or pamper packs to young people, calling them regularly to check they are OK, doing online games and activities with them, posting out postcards and support information and raising safeguarding concerns. Most of all, though, they are just ‘being there’ as and when young people need someone to talk to.

This global pandemic has helped us rediscover the value of community and made us reassess our lives and priorities. Many of us are looking to make a positive change in our lives. If you are one of those people looking to try something new, I can’t recommend volunteering highly enough!