I would like to share with you my experience of volunteering during the lockdown, and what changes and improvements we need to make as a country.
I am a 16-year-old boy and having had school cancelled with the lockdown, I briefly found myself with more time. As I read in the media about how increasingly dire the impact of coronavirus was in our country, I felt that I wanted to help if I could in any way possible.
Over the past six weeks I have had the chance to volunteer at a local charity called W9 Crew, which had the objective of helping those in direct need during the coronavirus lockdown.
To start off, we were picking up medication and dropping off food from the local food bank. Unfortunately, as the lockdown continued, we found there was an increase in the number and degree of severe cases, with people experiencing various problems; from mental health issues to being unable to support themselves. Therefore, we had to try and look after these people. As our list grew, we eventually found someone who had been completely left out of the social system.
He was referred to us by neighbours and we came to see him. When we arrived, we found Thomas (pseudonym) living in squalor and uninhabitable living conditions. He was being tricked into massively overpaying for his groceries and there were flies and mould in all of the rooms. To our astonishment, he had been completely forgotten about by the council and nobody was helping him. He hadn’t seen a doctor in seven years, and he didn’t even have a way to cook his food. We began to bring daily supplies of hot food to him and in full protective gear, started to clean his flat.
One day he didn’t answer the door, which was very unusual. We asked a neighbour for a key and came in. To our horror, we found this poor man had suffered a stroke and was unconscious on the floor. We quickly got him to hospital where they are currently looking after him. I wonder what would have happened if nobody had come that day?
With this devastating story of neglect in mind, it led me to think that our society was not working as it should. This man was an ex-military veteran and to find him treated like this really shocked me. This situation made me think of ways things could be improved — as the pandemic exposed a long-term failure within the system.
This is significant to me as it has shown how we as a society are unable to look after those in need, especially after our ex-veterans. One way to asses this problem is that we are not spending enough on welfare, but according to the OECD, the UK came 18 out of 35 in terms of countries that spend the most on welfare. This leads me to think that there is only so much centralised government plans can do. There comes a point when we need to be part of the solution.
I believe that as a country, we need to value and engage with our local communities more than we already do. Often, we get caught up in our own lives and friends. Additionally, we are less likely to know older people who do not leave their homes much, or those secluded through medical or mental health issues. Yet, it is exactly these people who need us the most. Sometimes just half an hour can make someone feel less isolated and more positive about life.
During this crisis, we have had many referrals from concerned neighbours who wanted to ensure that certain individuals are well. However, I am concerned that there may be more people like Thomas, who haven’t been found by the social system and are living in squalor. Nobody should have to live in those conditions and not be looked after by their community.
You can change this
You can improve and change the lives of people across the country if you go and engage with your neighbours and community. Together, we will be able to find other people who are not supported and change their lives. You may not see the point in ‘just me; going out?’ But as writer David Mitchell says:
‘What is any ocean but a multitude of drops?’
Each individual action makes a huge difference and you can be part of changing someone’s life for the better.
I hope you all stay safe during the lockdown.
If you would like to find out more about the work of W9 Crew, check out our Facebook.