Dealing with COVID-19 fears
As we mark Volunteers’ Week, running 1-7June, we’re sharing stories from Octopus volunteers, showing the impact of our work in local communities. From helping people and organisations, to creating a feelgood factor for volunteers, it can be positive for everyone involved.
With everyone facing the coronavirus (COVD-19) pandemic, this is especially true now. For Hester Decouz, head of corporate communications at Octopus, it was a starting point for volunteering.
Early in lockdown, Hester felt helpless seeing increasing numbers of people becoming unwell. She was also well aware of the differences between her situation and others. She says, “I’ve been able to work from home and spend more time with my children. But what about those working for the NHS, putting their lives at risk every day and separated from their families?”
Hester wanted to do something to help. She focused on getting personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies to staff, donating money to hospitals and crowdfunding sites.
Finding a practical solution
However, speaking to her cousin, an NHS paediatrician, brought home the severity of the situation. He and his staff had didn’t have much PPE equipment yet were doing long shifts and helping on COVID-19 wards.
Another of Hester’s cousins sent her a link to a Facebook group making and distributing face masks from home. Hester saw that this was a practical thing she could do and ordered supplies.
As she describes: “Although I was a bit dubious about my craft skills, I found some time in the evenings. My sister and I made around 50 face masks just using foam, acetate and elastic and a stapler.”
The power of community
Hester then tapped into the Facebook group to find out who needed the masks, and got a great response, with support and messages.
She explains: “The masks went to district nurses doing home visits in Bracknell, and to a nurse at a GP practice in Fulham. They were really happy and sent me photos and videos of them receiving the masks, and wearing them!
It was a massive high to help in such a tangible way. It’s true that when you help others it’s also a way of helping yourself. It can be a major boost to your mental health and to feeling a sense of community.”
Helping highlight a good cause
Hester also used her communications expertise as a volunteer. She suggested changing the Facebook group’s name to something more memorable. She also encouraged its founder to consider media opportunities and helped her pitch to media outlets.
The group got coverage on ITV News as part of a wider story on PPE. This was a fantastic result, including for Hester. She says, “It felt great to use my experience to help people, and give someone the confidence to seek out media opportunities”.
Volunteering will be part of Hester’s life from now on. She says, “Post lockdown I’ll be looking for more ways to support my local community. There have been some positives coming out of this pandemic. Creating connections and helping others is one of them.”
For more on Volunteers’ Week see: https://volunteersweek.org.