OPINION: Your time and skills make a difference - Karen Weaver, Harrogate and District Community Action

Having crossed the border from my native Lancashire several decades ago, I have always admired the strong community spirit that exists here in the Harrogate district. This willingness to look out for others, and get involved for the greater good, has never been more evident than during the pandemic.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 5:31 pm
Volunteer marshal Phil welcoming arrivals at the Ripon Racecourse Vaccination Centre earlier this year.

One outstanding example of our caring, responsive community has been the Covid-19 vaccination programme. Back in December, hundreds of volunteers stepped forward to offer their time and skills to help out with the largest immunisation programme in history. Their role in achieving this gargantuan task cannot be overestimated!

Many people attending the Harrogate Showground and Ripon Racecourse vaccination centres have commented on how slick the operations there have been. Some 500 volunteers from the district’s six designated Community Support Organisations (CSOs) have been involved in the marshaling effort. The deep community roots of the CSOs enabled them to quickly assemble their crews of volunteers to cover all the vaccination sessions and thanks and credit are due to the small coordinating teams at Boroughbridge Community Care, Knaresborough Connectors, Masham Community Office, Nidderdale Plus, Ripon Community House and the Harrogate Easier Living Project (HELP). Jointly the volunteers have given thousands of hours to meet, greet, direct, signpost and chat with people arriving for their vaccination. This number was further bolstered by the team of volunteer drivers who provided transport for residents struggling to get to the two centres. All have worked seamlessly together to pull off this impressive feat!

Aside from the practical support, the volunteers have been assisting people in more subtle ways. They have been there to reassure attendees, some of whom have been understandably nervous about venturing out after months of staying at home. They’ve also been there to listen and chat to so many who have appreciated some social contact in these socially distanced times.

As with all volunteering, our marshals have also benefitted from the experience and said how proud they felt to be part of the vaccination programme. One person commented that it gave them a sense of purpose when they had been made redundant and another felt the ‘communal joy of a successful exercise’. When I got my second jab I had a lovely chat with volunteer Jo from Boroughbridge Community Care, who told me how volunteering keeps her active in her 80s and that she’d helped out most weeks since January at the Showground. How fantastic!

As the GP-led vaccination programme gradually winds down locally, we are immensely grateful to all the volunteers from our community who have helped with the vaccination programme in any way. They have shown adaptability, flexibility and determination to make a difference in the face of huge challenges. I feel certain this phenomenal model of collaboration between the local voluntary and health sectors could be called upon again to tackle any future community-wide initiatives. It has been fantastic to work closely with the NHS and in particular with our wonderful general practices who have coordinated the vaccination programme locally.

The next opportunity is to encourage all these volunteers to continue to give their time and skills and as services and activities re-open there are lots local opportunities available via our online volunteering directory.

So, if you want to continue or now realise what you’ve been missing, why not take a look via https://hadca.org.uk/volunteer/opportunities?