Unsung Heroes: All our volunteers in Bridgend county borough

They have been the lifeline to many residents since the coronavirus pandemic began – shopping for them, collecting their prescriptions, making deliveries and calling regularly to chat with those who are lonely or anxious while shielding or self-isolating.

Signing up in their hundreds, the county borough’s army of volunteers have all just wanted to do something to help their community at this time. And those who have received their help say they wouldn’t have survived without them.

Overseeing the entire operation has been the Bridgend Association of Volunteers (BAVO) which both volunteers and those who require support contact to register.

Mel Cameron from Brynmenyn registered as a volunteer early on after seeing an appeal for volunteers advertised on social media.

Over the years she has often volunteered for organisations such as St John’s Ambulance.

She said: “I’m working full-time from home at the moment but wanted to do something to help – I’ve been helping those who aren’t able to get out, getting their lists and doing shopping for them wherever they want me to go.

“I’ve collected prescriptions and things like books for people all around Bridgend. If I go to the chemist and pick up prescriptions for six people then that’s six less people that would then have to go in so it’s reducing the risk of transmission for everyone else.

“Everyone has been so grateful. Lots of people are isolated – I’ve never met them before. I would have just walked past these people in the street not knowing who they were, it’s been really nice to chat to them.

“It’s about giving back to the community, helping people who need support is important.”

Louise Jenkins from Pencoed has been a befriender volunteer, calling those who are vulnerable to check they have their medication and enough food, and to have a chat with them.

She said: “I just wanted to do something to help. My work had stopped and I just felt a bit useless. You wouldn’t believe how much people appreciate you ringing them. Some people haven’t got any family or anyone to speak to – their only communication is with you.

“I have one lady that I ring every day at the same time, we chat about the lockdown, what’s on television, shopping, anything to lift that person up.”

Nick Johnson who is working from home at the moment came across the BAVO website after looking for volunteering opportunities.

He said: “I saw they were looking for people to deliver prescriptions and thought that’s something I could do, I spoke to my boss who was happy for me to take a couple of hours off a week.

“It was something that I could do that was immediate, I’ve been collecting and delivering prescriptions to residents in Wildmill, Bridgend, Litchard, Coychurch and Brackla.

“I wanted to be able to do something – these are really unprecedented times, I felt like we should all pull together.

“The sweetest moment was when I came to deliver a prescription to an elderly couple who saw me coming, the gentleman was waving from one window and putting both his thumbs up while his wife was blowing kisses.”

Peter Bradley who recently retired from the fire services said he wanted to put something back in the community. He said: “With Covid-19, I knew the NHS would be struggling and we had to support them.

“I’m in a position where I have some spare time and needed to do something worthwhile during this period,– I’ve been taking prescriptions to the vulnerable in places like Bryncethin, Sarn, Aberkenfig and Brynmenyn.”

Janet from Porthcawl said she doesn’t know what she would have done without the help of BAVO’s volunteers. In her seventies, she has not only had to cope with being isolated at home but also the loss of her brother who died from coronavirus just a few weeks ago.

She said: “It’s been absolutely awful. Obviously I was unable to go to his funeral which was the other side of Newport.

“What I would have done without these people, I don’t know. Apart from anything else I was in absolute pieces, there is no way I would have got over the door to go shopping.

“I’m completely alone, I lost my hubby some years ago – I just don’t know what I would have done.

“I just think the volunteers are absolutely wonderful, I cannot express how much gratitude I feel towards them. I heard about them through a brochure put through my letter box – they’ve done my shopping and collected my prescriptions.”

Janet is looking forward to seeing her grandchildren, one of whom is planning her wedding next year, and seeing her sister-in-law and niece and nephew when the lockdown rules are lifted.

She said: “The lockdown just happened over night – I’ve watched more TV then I ever have in my life, read a lot of books and done jigsaws. I mustn’t complain as so many people are worse off.”

Frances from North Cornelly said: “I wouldn’t have survived without BAVO, they’ve been wonderful, absolutely wonderful.

“They walk my dog, they get my food and I have got a lady who rings me every other day and we have a lovely chat. I’m thrilled to bits.

“I’m 80 and I was in a good place at the start with a freezer full but it soon ran down. I’ve been isolating for 14 weeks. My grandsons ring to check I’m ok but they’re in England.

“The chemist delivered information about BAVO – I had never heard of them before but I’ve been telling everyone about them.

“A young lady walks my dog and another lady who I’ve never met before rings me and we get into conversation. It fills my day up, it’s saved me mentally. There’s nothing worse than being stuck indoors and it’s silent. I can’t praise them enough.”

Over April and May, more than 1,000 volunteers registered with BAVO in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

BAVO’s chief executive Heidi Bennett said: “We have truly been overwhelmed and humbled by the generosity and kindness of our local residents.

“Because the response has been so great, we filled many of the volunteer vacancies very quickly, so there are still plenty of volunteers that we haven’t yet been able to use. As lockdown eases over time and volunteers return to work or their daily activities, we hope many of the remaining volunteers can step in. We will be in contact with volunteers who have registered as the need arises.

“Thank you to all our volunteers for helping vulnerable people living in our communities in these most challenging of times.”

The Leader, Cllr Huw David, said: “Volunteers in Bridgend county borough have been instrumental to the health and wellbeing of many of our residents.

“We are hugely grateful to them for all their kindness and efforts to ensure those who are shielded or isolated have access to what they need at this very difficult time.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can do so on the Volunteering Wales website here

BAVO is the county voluntary council for Bridgend county borough and serves as an umbrella organisation for local charities, community and voluntary groups.

It can match people’s skills, interests and experience to the most relevant need. Anyone who registers with will be able to access free on-line training such as infection control, safeguarding, health and safety, manual handling, caring values, and food hygiene.

BAVO can also undertake DBS checks for people who may be interested in supporting front line services such as hospitals or children and adults services.

Alternatively, it can connect people to local groups to provide support as and when required, and link people to others in your community.