How Mansfield's volunteers rose to the COVID-19 challenge

Jeanette Samways and colleague sorting food parcels

Before the COVID-19 lockdown, every weekday morning Jeanette Samways would log on to her computer at Mansfield Civic Centre and spend her working hours supporting council tenants with special needs.

In her role as a Mansfield District Council Housing Management Specialist Support Officer, some days she would find herself helping a tenant with an alcohol or drug problem or mental health issue. Other days it could be helping a family with rent arrears. 

Now Jeanette and her Housing department colleagues find themselves in a very different support role as part of the council’s COVID-19 Community Support Hub to ensure the needs of vulnerable people are met during the coronavirus crisis.  

These days Jeanette, along with colleagues Kerry and Richard, are more likely to be found helping to distribute daily food parcels for the homeless at The Beacon Project or making deliveries for local food banks to assist people in the district whose health problems or age make them so vulnerable they cannot leave their homes and risk picking up coronavirus.

Not everyone has family, friends or neighbours who can help. It is these very isolated people who the council has been reaching out to – sometimes daily, sometimes weekly – delivering food and medications.

Jeanette said: “It’s been really heartwarming to be part of this huge community effort in Mansfield. It makes you realise what a kind and friendly place it is with everyone pulling together to make sure no one slips through the net in terms of care and support.

“As well as making a change from my usual job – which I still do from home in the afternoons – I am proud to have been part of these Community Hub efforts and in making a difference during this very difficult time for some people.”

Jeanette and her colleagues are among around 10% of council employees who have had their normal roles redefined to meet the current local needs during the crisis.

Another among them is Kam Britland. Anyone who has ever visited the Civic Centre will probably have met Kam as one of the council’s Customer Services Advisers.

With the Civic Centre being closed, Kam was redeployed and her brilliant communication skills put to best use. She has been helping Mansfield CVS by being a befriender to people feeling cut off and isolated during the lockdown.

“I'm just trying to do my best and figuring out ways to help others in managing their fears about both their mental and physical health – as well as my own!” she said after being recognised by the CVS this week during the UK’s national Volunteers’ Week.

“It has been very humbling hearing people’s stories. For some, we are the only people they get to speak to in a whole week. It has made me feel fortunate to be able to make a small difference in the community in such unprecedented times.

“For me, appreciating the simple things in life and giving something back to the community is key. I also do some volunteering work in my spare time.”

Meanwhile community groups have also been refocusing their efforts to address local needs during the crisis.

Among them is Ladybrook Enterprises, a registered charity, which operates from and manages Ladybrook Community Centre (William Kaye Hall), offering activities and services to help people in the area to improve their lives. 

Boosted by a donation from the council’s Community Response Network Fund, its Help at Hand Mansfield project is currently supporting 46 people who are shielding. They have each been allocated a volunteer who calls weekly to arrange shopping, collection of medications or offer telephone support for emotional needs. 

Linda Nixon, a Help at Hand Mansfield volunteer, said: "The people I help know they have someone friendly who will call them and help find a solution to their needs. Since retiring, it has helped me to help others who are shielding, and it provides me with exercise."

Sharron Reynolds, CEO of Ladybrook Enterprises, which has been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, said: 'We have been blessed with some great people who volunteer and have made a huge difference. It has been a privilege to speak to people ringing for help and hear their stories, too."

Councillors, too, have been doing their bit to support the community. Cabinet member Cllr Craig Whitby teamed up with other councillors in Mansfield Woodhouse and the Peaceful Trust Charity to form one of Nottinghamshire’s Humanitarian Aid Groups.

Calling themselves Focus Point Community Support Network, a plea went out via Facebook for volunteers and within hours, 60 had stepped forward to help residents with requests ranging from doing their weekly shopping and putting out their bins, to fetching prescriptions and delivering supplies for food banks.

Cllr John Coxhead has been working with Naaz Indian Cuisine Restaurant and Victoria Tandoori, to provide free meals for front line workers including ambulance crews, NHS staff, the police and fire services, and teachers. Postal workers, school kids and frontline council staff have had a few treats, too.

Cllr Whitby said: “Although lockdown rules are being relaxed, our project will continue to run. The effects of Test, Track and Trace could have profound effects with more residents being asked to isolate, so we will continue to be here for local people.

“As horrible as this virus has been in the way it has hit our communities in all sorts of ways, one of the good things to come out of it is how it has fired up a sense of community spirit and I really hope that is something that we can continue to harness and take forward.”

For Kam, she for one hopes to continue her voluntary work and she draws on two sayings from her Malaysian Chinese heritage, to carry her forward with a sense of hope.

“In the east we say: ‘It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop’ and ‘heal the past, live and love the present and dream the future’. That’s what we have to do.”

Where to find help and how you can volunteer

People in need of help can find more details about where to get it on our Community Hub.  

For people interested in volunteering, you can find more details on the Nottinghamshire County Council website (opens in new window).

Mansfield CVS (opens in new window) can also point people in the right direction.  

Published: June 8th 2020