We’re living through the biggest public health challenge in a generation, and we’re all naturally asking, “When will it end?"
But many people are also asking another question: “How can I help?”
Well, the good news is you already are.
By playing The National Lottery, you’re raising £30million* for good causes every week. And, thanks to you, up to £600million of funding is being distributed to communities affected by the outbreak, allowing vital services and local projects to continue operating during these troubled and uncertain times.
Put simply, you’ve been part of the biggest non-governmental contribution to the efforts to combat coronavirus.
Since the crisis took hold, millions of people across the UK have been using those extra hours to help their community and finding safe ways to help the most vulnerable people in their communities. That could be lending a hand with grocery shopping for an elderly neighbour, picking up prescriptions, ringing people living alone or helping out at a local food bank.
In fact, a quarter of people under 55 say the pandemic has made them want to do more volunteering. And it’s those small, easy, daily acts – which may feel insignificant – that can often have the biggest impact.
Thanks to National Lottery players – as well as the magnificent determination and imagination of the people who run vital services across the UK – charities, good causes and local projects have been able to continue operating and offering support to the communities they serve.
Organisations awarded National Lottery grants before the coronavirus crisis began have been finding new ways to use the money in response to the pandemic. Others have applied for funding specifically to cope with the effects it has had on their services.
Chef Chris Summers has been spending much of his spare time preparing and delivering hot meals to the elderly and the vulnerable in Caernarfon, Wales.
With the help of around 35 other local volunteers, as well as funding from The National Lottery, the initiative has gone from delivering 60 meals a week at the start of the pandemic to more than 650.
Then there’s Shirlee, from Craigavon in Northern Ireland, who has been offering her time to the Omagh B-Friend Hub, a befriending service supported by The National Lottery that provides a lifeline to locals at risk of isolation and loneliness.
Shirlee spends a couple of hours each week chatting on the phone to local people who are living alone. And it’s not just those she calls whose spirits are lifted – it cheers her up too.
‘I’d feel so anxious that I couldn’t pay for my shopping’
A trip to the supermarket used to fill Jenny Howe with dread. The 66-year-old from Dorking would become anxious about the thought of simply buying her weekly groceries.
“Approaching the checkout I’d feel sick worrying I wouldn’t have the money to pay for it all,” says Jenny. “It’s so embarrassing to have to put something back because you can’t afford it.”
Usually Jenny – who has Type 1 diabetes – stuck to her carefully written shopping list and was able to pay for the weekly shop for her and her husband. However, as a result of opting for cheaper products, their diet was very basic and often lacking in nutrients.
“We’d always get the cheaper meat and we often couldn’t afford many vegetables or fruit. I’d buy the same things every week – basics like milk and bread – because I knew the price.”
Then in 2017 Jenny heard that Mid Surrey Community Fridges was opening on her estate. The scheme redistributes food that would otherwise be discarded by supermarkets to people who need it. Often there is nothing wrong with the food – it might have a short shelf life or damaged packaging.
“At first I thought maybe this isn’t for me – there might be people who need it more,” admits Jenny. “But when I finally went I felt so welcome.”
And removing the stress of food shopping wasn’t the only benefit.
“I noticed my health improving,” she says. “I had more energy because I was eating better and getting all the vitamins I needed from the fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Mid Surrey Community Fridges was also a safety net when the pandemic came, as it started to deliver food to vulnerable people.
“It’s been a great help – I don’t know what I’d have done otherwise,” says Jenny, who looked forward to a weekly chat with whoever was dropping off the supplies almost as much as the food itself. “It made such a difference to get that little bit of socialisation,” she says.
But the scheme couldn’t deliver food to hundreds of people if it wasn’t for the group of volunteers who help run it.
Despite being a busy mum-of-three and a part-time property manager, Margo Firaza, 37, also runs her local Mid Surrey Community Fridges hub.
“There’s been a huge increase in demand for our services since Covid,” says Margo, who started volunteering three years when a neighbour told her about the project. She now loves encouraging people to try it out.
“People often think that we run a food bank and there’s a stigma attached to that,” she says. “But our main aim is to reduce food waste – helping out people who are struggling is a positive side effect.
“Everybody needs to eat. I tell people they are actually giving us a hand by coming and getting this food. Volunteers spend so much time organising it all and it’s hard work. If people don’t come, our time is wasted as well as the food. We have such a great variety of food, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Volunteer in person, online, over the phone or even from your sofa
In the current crisis, volunteering can be a huge comfort not just to those who receive help, but to the volunteers too – helping them build confidence and giving them the opportunity to learn new skills.
In a recent survey*, more than half of the UK adults who were asked admitted that Covid-19 had negatively affected their mental health – but the same survey also found that wellbeing had been improved by helping others through acts of kindness.
The reality is that volunteering doesn’t need to take a huge amount of commitment. In fact, in the time it takes to watch an episode of your favourite programme on television, you could have made a bigger difference to someone’s life than you thought possible – and you’ll feel the satisfaction that comes from helping others too.
This is why The National Lottery and ITV have teamed up to help you play a part in your community. Small acts of kindness can make a big difference. And even if you’re missing out on your favourite ITV show to help out, you’re not just supporting others – you can benefit too. (And, of course, you can always catch up on ITV Hub later!).
From helping out a neighbour to holding virtual coffee mornings, there are so many ways you can use your time to make a difference to help others, keep communities connected and reach those in need of support.
No matter how much time you can spare or where you live, there’s always something you can do. You don’t even need to leave your home – you can help out online or over the phone… from the comfort of your sofa.
While it’s true that government rules and restrictions mean we’re more limited in what we can do and where we can go right now, it’s also the case that many of us are finding a way to balance work-life commitments in a way that’s healthier and more productive.
There is a way to give a lockdown lifeline to millions more people in this unprecedented situation – and it could take you as little as 60 minutes a week to make a real difference to someone’s life.
*Survey from International Red Cross
Visit howtohelpout.com for top tips, inspirational stories and volunteering opportunities to make a difference now
*Based on figures from April 2019-March 2020. Players must be 16+.
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