POWYS has a proud tradition of volunteering, and during the pandemic, the “capital of volunteering” in Wales can be proud of itself.
Nearly a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, the unsung army of volunteers in Powys, have now been mobilised to help the mass vaccination effort.
PAVO (Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations) chief executive, Carl Cooper, spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service about the inspirational work being done by volunteers.
Carl said: “Before Covid, I would have said that Powys is the volunteering capital of Wales.
“The number of volunteers here is higher than anywhere else in Wales.”
He explained that around 60,000 people out of a total population of 132,000 in Powys had give their time to help others for free.
Carl said: “Our latest efforts is to work very closely helping the vaccination effort.
“We have 350 people at the Newtown, Llanelwedd and Bronllys vaccination centres, and they work as “wayfinder marshalls.”
“They are doing fantastic work a great partnership has been developed between the voluntary sector, the health board and the council during this emergency.
“It has been inspirational and is one of the good things that has come out of a dark, difficult, and challenging time.”
The volunteers meet and greet people when they arrive and help them through the process.
They try and make people feel as relaxed as possible as well as helping by finding items such as wheelchairs if needed.
The volunteers could be anyone, and several politicians from the county have been part of the effort.
“I will be doing this next week with other volunteers, and I’m looking forward to playing my part,” said Carl.
He explained that this is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to the efforts made by volunteers since the emergency started in the UK, back in March 2020.
He said: “During the pandemic we have been trying to do a couple of things.
“The first of which is coordinating and supporting the informal or “spontaneous” volunteers who have been hard at work in their own communities.
“What we have is a network of networks.”
“By now we have 13 of them across Powys that support and coordinate their efforts in the community.”
Before covid, there were over 4,000 third sector organisations in Powys, and 112 covid related volunteer groups have been formed around the county, during the last year.
Carl stressed: “Their contribution has been massively important.”
Alongside this PAVO have recruited nearly 2,500 volunteers who have been able to work alongside Powys Teaching Health Board (PTHB) and Powys County Council (PCC) in various capacities.
Carl said: “For example 40 of them helped with food in hospitals, we recruited 191 of them as drivers, to help with transport.”
At the start of the pandemic, Carl explained that PAVO took responsibility for the volunteering effort.
He said: “We placed the volunteer in the correct setting, either with the council or health board or another organisation.
“What I also feel is the way we have gone about it is unique – because we have a strong and positive relationship with PTHB and PCC, we have been able to work to our strengths.”
He also explained that during the latest lockdown, coordinating the volunteer effort has been easier, due to the lessons learned in earlier periods.
Carl said: “The first lockdown came out of the blue, we didn’t have the agreements or processes in place that were needed.
“It did take some time to work with our partners to ensure these were put in place, such as sharing information, health and safety, and risk assessing.
“We now have a system that works smoothly and one where we are able to respond much quicker than we could at the start.”
The profile of who volunteers has also changed during the pandemic.
Many regular volunteers who are older, needed to shield as they had, or their loved ones had underlying health conditions, which needed to be protected against coronavirus.
This saw a new cohort of volunteers emerge.
Carl said: “We had people who were on furlough for example who had the time, and were able to offer their services temporarily.
“They stepped in and filled the breaches before going back to work.”
“I think that has been fluid right throughout the pandemic.”
He also explained that volunteering is good for mental health.
Carl explained: “I was speaking to a volunteer at Llanelwedd, and they told me:
“I’ve loved volunteering it has done as much for me as the people I am helping, my own mental health and emotional well being is hugely improved because of it.”
Carl added “I think that’s an important point.
“Volunteering has helped the vaccination programme it helps the services, but it also helps the volunteers because they have been able to go out and come back with better mental and emotional well-being.”
For more information on PAVO – visit their website, www.pavo.org.uk