As a Volunteer in Lockdown I Shopped For People

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dining table with volunteer's laptop
My work/volunteering/singing station

For the first three months of lockdown,  I consciously made a decision to volunteer in the local community. 

I started working with the local council hub and shopping for people who, for whatever reason, had to shield.  

I also volunteered with our local community co-operative. It’s a little ethical food shop/ supermarket.  I’m a board member and help them with their marketing activity. I helped to set up a fruit and veg box delivery scheme and did a lot of the deliveries to local people who couldn’t get out.   

Throughout lockdown I volunteered and  shopped  for people. The first job I did  was with a lady who was shielding and didn’t have any local friends or family she could  call upon to help. She ended up going in and out of hospital. I carried on doing the shopping for her when she was back at home. 

People are very grateful for what you are doing. It’s nice for them to have a bit of interaction with somebody, because they have not been out of the house for months. 

You have to try and help people in that sort of situation.  

I was shopping for my parents too. They are over 70 so they weren’t technically shielding, but they were staying at home. I would stand on the doorstep and talk to them from there.  I did that right up until the end of June.  When things opened up again they were able to go back to the supermarket themselves. 

In some ways it was better than it is now.  Because now I can’t see them at all! 

black sofa in living room

Three years ago I was  working in a job where I was travelling all the time, and never at home.

I was working for a big company that really didn’t care about anything and I was constantly on aeroplanes, always somewhere else. I thought: this isn’t for me – and I don’t want to be doing this for the foreseeable future.  

And so, I stopped work completely.  I had four months off and started volunteering. Since then I’ve tried to have a different and better work/life balance.  I’ve taken on short-term, flexible  contract work so  I’ve got more time. But obviously, you need money in order to have  a balance between work and volunteering.  

So, that’s kind of my ethos now. It’s the way I want to be. Rather than  working for an organisation that isn’t really  very caring I want to use my skills  to help other people.

At the beginning of lockdown I was still working in a very flexible temporary job. It was perfect for me in many ways…. but it wasn’t  so perfect when the contract ended at the end of April. And, I’ve not worked since then. 

Now I am job-hunting. I started looking properly at the end of July and have applied for quite a lot of things. I’m kind of hoping through some contacts something will come up.

We live right next to a huge park, in Manchester.  Our house is a four-bedroom detached  – and it was a nice place to  be during lockdown. 

volunteer's garden with grape vine
Garden grape vine and bird feeders

It’s quite an unusual house for this area. It was built in 2004, so it’s a relatively new house and was only 5 and half years old when we first moved in. We put in a couple of new bathrooms and overhauled the garden. But other than that, we haven’t done that much to it really.

My partner is a gardener, so over lockdown he was constantly  working in the garden. It was lovely because if you needed  to be outside  you could  be in your own green space.  We seem to have a lot more different kinds of birds than normal– or perhaps I’ve not  noticed them before.

  

I sing with  two choirs (Bury Community Choir and Manchester Community Choir)

But, obviously, we haven’t been able to sing as a group – because of the restrictions. I’ve been sharing things on social media to try to keep us together as a community and group. 

cream sofa in conservatory with books

My family live relatively locally but sadly Oldham has had strict lockdown rules in place for quite a long time now.  I was able to see them a little bit when the restrictions were initially lifted, but not since the local lockdown rules came into place.  So that’s been really hard. 

I used to spend every Monday  with my parents and my niece but I haven’t been able to do that since March.   For me, I think that’s the worst thing … not being able to catch up with family and friends that we would  regularly meet and see.  

My partner’s family all live further afield. We had his dad and step-mum over when we were allowed to meet outside in the garden.  And then we had his sister, her husband and niece and nephew, that was lovely  – they came to stay. Some friends popped in when returning from a holiday in the Lake District,  when that was still allowed. 

But now we are locked up again. And we are not allowed to have anybody at home!

We are trying our best to keep in contact with people as best we can. I think that’s going to be more difficult. In the evenings when people aren’t working, it’s already dark.  Plus, we are living in an area  with a local lockdown. 

Before lockdown, although I worked from home, I was always out. I was in the gym nearly every day…. I am a member of two choirs, I  volunteer at the Lowry theatre in Salford and  I would spend  time with my family and friends.

So… now I do all the gym stuff in the garage.  I do all my singing on Zoom and the volunteer stuff I do online. I try and do the same things, but now I do them in a different way.

Singing on Zoom is not like singing in a choir. 

There have been some very funny instances where we just didn’t know what we were doing. The technology isn’t there so it doesn’t suit a lot of people because you are only singing to yourself. Everyone has to be on mute because  if everyone has their speaker on it’s bedlam.  Even the most professional people like Gareth Malone didn’t manage to do it….. So, you just have to make the best of it. 

Manchester Community Choir is a bit more formal and we do proper rehearsals. With Bury Community Choir we have more of a laugh, it’s more of a social thing. We are trying to keep the group together as a community and have had Zoom sessions and events where we’ve invited different people.  We are having a coffee morning for Macmillan as a relaxed sing-a-long type of thing. Bring your own coffee, have your own cake. Everything online.

It’s a different way of doing things –  but it will never be the same as in a choir. 

The regulations allow us to sing together now, but you can imagine….. singing in a choir with everybody 2 metres apart!  

volunteer's kitchen

Sometime back in May, my house was  probably the cleanest it has ever been!

Spring cleaning… sorting  everything out… Starting with the kitchen I set about one room at a time. I will get to it all eventually. I’ve been trying to sell some bits and pieces on Ebay and trying to get rid of stuff.. and give stuff to charity. It’s getting there. 

When I was sorting the kitchen out I found lots of old recipes   and thought: we haven’t had that for ages… and that…. Normally, my partner does all the cooking and  I do the cleaning. But we have kind of shifted  because I have not been working. We’ve  tried to find new recipes and have had some quite nice stuff… We bought a pizza stone and have been  eating pizza again.

I guess, when you’ve got more time, you can do more things that take longer, or  are a bit more complicated –  rather than just  cooking something because you have to eat!

It’s like we are living in a  false, ‘weird’ environment.  

My niece, who I spend a lot of time with, is three.  She’s not been able to spend  time with her grandparents, with me, with my partner and  other family members. At the  beginning of lockdown she asked my sister: “ Can we go swimming?”   It’s not like she was asking for anything major… she just wanted to go swimming.

I feel sad for the children who might be impacted by this – those who can remember it!

A teacher friend of mine said: kids are kids. It’s not normal to have to be sat apart from each other- especially at primary age. It’s not normal for them to be constantly cleaning things. 

But, I think from this we will all remember the sense of community. There are a lot of very positive things that have happened in terms of how everybody clapped for the carers and also the people who were helping neighbours.  That spirit was strong. 

But, I just feel frustrated by this whole thing –  especially  because I’ve not got a job at the moment. I’m fine….. but it is  difficult for a lot of people  now looking for jobs. It’s become harder and harder. The economy has taken a massive hit  – which, inevitably was going to happen. It’s tough. 

I volunteer at the Lowry in Salford.

It’s heartbreaking because all the staff are on furlough. That’s ending but there’s no work for them. Yes, they have  funding from grants but at the moment they are unable to bring back  anyone into theatres because of social distancing.  It’s not financially viable – so what are they going to do?  They are a big organisation. And when you think about some of the smaller ones….. All the talented people –  musicians and people who work in the arts  – have just gone and found a job doing something else. That’s such as shame because all that talent is just going to disappear.

That sector is really going to suffer for quite a long time.

I have found  all this a bit ‘alien’…. It’s when you go to the supermarket and everybody is there in a queue and… ‘avoiding people’. It’s a bit strange, a bit weird.

carpeted staircase in hall

I’m really looking forward to being able to see my family properly. That is… all my extended family, nieces and nephews in a proper way  – rather than just wave to them from afar.  I’m keen to get back into a choir and singing again. 

Just…. kind of  getting back to  a bit of normality.

We always used to go to a lot of concerts and go to  see comedians and stuff like that. None of that has been happening….. just being able to go out and do some ‘normal things’. 

We have been on a couple of  holidays (in the UK) and that was nice because… we were somewhere different. We were staying in quite quiet places and in the evenings went out for meals… and it just felt kind of ‘normal’. This is something we hadn’t done at home  – mainly  because when we go out locally we go out with other people, and we can’t do that.  

We have all had to adapt to an alien set of circumstances  that  we had never experienced before…… but obviously, Covid not going anywhere soon.  

All Photos By Respondent

Follow Nuala Rooney:

I am a creative professional and award-winning author, currently developing original ethnographic design research. With over 25 years experience in Higher Education my interest lies in exploring distilled thinking and design as lived experience.

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