A Year Like No Other: Volunteers’ stories recognised in online exhibition

Imi and Dan wrote letters for ‘Give a Few Words’, which go to people who might otherwise be socially isolated.

Third Sector Leaders Kirklees and Kirklees Museums & Galleries are marking the role volunteers played locally in supporting their local communities during the Covid-19 pandemic, with an online photographic exhibition that will eventually become part of the council’s Museums & Galleries collection.

The exhibition, which will initially be launched online, to coincide with National Volunteers’ Week 2021 brings together images and stories of individuals, living in the Kirklees area, who gave their time to help others during the past 12 months.

Becky Bracey, Volunteer Development Manager at Third Sector Leaders Kirklees explains “National Volunteers’ Week is an opportunity for us to recognise and thank all volunteers across Kirklees. We have experienced a year like no other and we wanted to do something special as a permanent reminder of the significant role volunteers have played during the pandemic. 

This important partnership with Kirklees Museums will ensure that some of our remarkable volunteering stories from across the borough will become part of our social history for years to come. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has volunteered or simply been ‘neighbourly’ during this time, the power of communities to pull together and help each other has been truly inspiring.”

Initially, the exhibition will be available to view on the TSL Kirklees website before becoming a real-life exhibition later this year, and hopefully touring Kirklees, before entering the Museums & Galleries collection.  It includes the stories and images of over 20 volunteers who’ve all have very different experiences and have offered their time in different ways, including:

Mehmet and Arjola help support people who are new to Kirklees via the Welcome Mentors scheme.

Mehmet and Arjola, from Huddersfield, volunteer with the Welcome Mentors programme, run by TSL Kirklees. They are part of a team of around 90 Volunteers who speak over 50 different languages who during the pandemic have been translating important key messages about covid restrictions, testing and vaccinations, as well as signposting to support services.

Mehmet explains “My wife and I are bi-lingual, and in our volunteer role we are actively supporting individuals and families, carrying out welfare checks, translation work, providing buddy calls to people in need and helping people to settle in Kirklees. We have helped families register a birth and enrol their children at school. We had very special memories during our volunteering, and we have learnt a lot. It helped us adapt quickly to living in Kirklees, and we feel like we’ve been living here for a long time now.”

14- year old twins Dan and Imi from Huddersfield helped out as much as they could by raiding their own wardrobes to donate clothes to people in need, and packing stationery for kids who were homeschooling. They then decided to volunteer for ‘Give a Few Words’ which provides letters to people who are socially isolated, included care home residents.  The pair explain “When we heard about this fantastic initiative we couldn’t wait to help! Our letters take approximately 30 minutes to write, the subject steered mainly around the interests of the recipient although we do talk about our day, hobbies and life in general!” 

Dan says, “Writing letters throughout quarantine has been really fulfilling, showing kindness and caring to others”.

Imi says, “I have loved writing letters, during this difficult time. Writing the letters has made me feel happy that I was able to do something positive to help other people during lockdown”.

Amy, from Thornhill in Dewsbury, was already supporting new parents over the phone as a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter with Locala when the pandemic struck and so was able to continue providing with this vital lifeline for isolated new parents. However, as she also helps with a local craft and sewing club, Amy quickly became involved in helping to make scrubs for frontline health workers who were dealing with Covid.

After starting with 3 others and a GoFundMe for £250 the whole enterprise quickly expanded, and Amy found herself managing a group of about 30 people. The GoFundMe raised approx.  £1500 and the group produced 162 pairs of scrubs (plus hundreds of washbags and hats) Amy says “It was an amazing project, and it was a privilege to be involved. At a time of real loneliness and anxiety here was a group of strangers all working together (yet entirely separately) as a solid unit. I am so proud to have played a part in the whole thing, and proud to part of such a passionate and hardworking community of women.”

Councillor Will Simpson, Cabinet Member for Culture and Greener Kirklees said: “We are delighted to be working with TSL Kirklees to create this historic record that will become part of the Museums & Galleries collection.

“It’s so important to document the collective efforts of the communities of Kirklees during the extraordinary, and unprecedented, times of Covid lockdown.

“In the future, people will be able to look back at these photographs, taken at this time of national crisis, and reflect on the contributions of these volunteers, their individual stories and the how the people of Kirklees came together during the pandemic to support each other.”

To view the online exhibition, visit http://bit.ly/VWK21 from Tuesday 1st June. (Or visit either https://volunteering.tslkirklees.org.uk/ or https://tslkirklees.org.uk/ and follow the link at the top of the page.)

Alongside the exhibition the TSL Volunteering team have given small grants to 36 organisations in Kirklees to use to thank their volunteers and have sent out 1000 thank you cards.  They’ll be sharing inspirational stories on social media throughout the week – @TSLVolunteering (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). People can follow, share and join in using the hashtags, #VolunteersWeekKirklees #VKW21.

They’ll be marking the end of Volunteers’ Week with a Virtual Volunteers’ Fair from 8th to 10th June. Details and booking will be available on http://tslvolunteering.eventbrite.com.  And people can see all the latest volunteering opportunities in Kirklees and apply for them at https://volunteering.tslkirklees.org.uk/opportunities/

Kirklees Council (along with other councils in West Yorkshire) will be lighting up Huddersfield, Cleckheaton, Dewsbury and Batley Town Halls in purple to mark the start of Volunteers’ Week and say thank you to local volunteers on Tuesday 1st June.

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