Volunteer Week has met all my objectives. Publicity has been generated to promote volunteering in our community. I have learnt from each organisation I visited and I hope they have found it helpful too. I have also found it rewarding and enjoyable.
Volunteer Week will be back next year.
The last event of my Volunteering Week was to go out with the Harrogate Street Pastors, who help keep Harrogate a safe place at night and provide support for vulnerable people in the late night environment which can be very challenging.
Going round about the town centre in orange jackets, usually in pairs, talking to the pubbers and clubbers, liaising with the doormen at the pubs and clubs, connected to the CCTV system operators, the Street Pastors help hundreds who could face difficulties. The Street Pastors also have a catering van, parked on Oxford Street, giving out coffee, tea and water.
I was out with the team from midnight to 3am. It was not the busiest night in the town centre, but there were still incidents where the Street Pastors were able to offer support. There was one case particularly which brought home how valuable a service they are. One of the doormen I spoke to told me how he thought the Street Pastors had saved lives.
The Street Pastors were a great team. I enjoyed meeting them and seeing first hand the work they do.
To Lower Dunsforth to help PhysioNet, a charity which supplies physiotherapy and mobilty equipment to disabled children in developing countries. They take equipment that is being discarded, mainly by the NHS and councils, and have it refurbished before packing it into a container for dispatch.
I was part of the team assembled to do the packing of the equipment into the container. This was a real case of many hands making light work, and it was just as well that there were many hands as we were loading a large container so there was a lot of lifting.
The equipment that was being sent was in excellent condition. The kit had been refurbished, with the work being done by prison inmates. This is great work for them, and equipment which would have gone to scrap or into landfill is given a second life helping those in developing countries.
I enjoyed helping, and joining the team and helping. PhysioNet have developed a great idea into a project which helps thousands of others.
Protecting the environment is close to my heart. Even before I was an MP I helped many environmental projects and as a councillor was able to bring many environmental initiatives to the forefront of council thinking.
That is why I always try and help out with environment-based issues during my volunteer week and indeed throughout the year. Once worked for sand, gravel and clay, Staveley Nature Reserve has been allowed to regenerate naturally. A rich, diverse range of plant communities has gradually crept back across much of the 40 hectares of land to establish Staveley as a true wildlife haven.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust purchased the reserve in 2002 and now manages it to maintain the area’s rich and diverse flora and fauna. If left unchecked, scrub would gradually encroach and eventually the reserve would revert to woodland.
I joined volunteers helping to create a community orchard on the edge of the site and clearing hay to encourage plant growth. So Thursday of volunteer week was a very diverse day and I think that demonstrates that volunteering is for everyone no matter what their age, ability or interests.
The Forest School is a special school for pupils aged between 3 and 16 who have a range of learning difficulties. These include moderate and severe learning difficulties, autistic spectrum difficulties, physical problems, language and communication difficulties. It has been in Knaresborough for over 40 years but is not widely known in the area.
My visit for volunteer week isn’t the first time I’ve been to Forest School but it is the first time I’ve mucked in with the teachers and pupils.
It is a fantastic place; it was an inspiring visit. I helped the teachers and children with various activities and it really brought home the dedication of the teachers as they deal with some challenging situations and the enthusiasm of the children.
Halfway through my volunteer week and another great charity. Harrogate Advocacy was formed in 1993 with the aim of delivering services for people in the Harrogate area. Since it was established, the service has continued to grow and now provides support to around 300 people each year.
Working with older people and those with learning disabilities, mental health issues or chronic disease, it speaks up for those who often have difficulty speaking up for themselves.
I helped with general clerical duties and back office work enabling the trained frontline personnel to deliver the service. I took incoming calls, did some research on local schools and generally helped out around the office and learnt about the valuable work the organisation does.
I had been looking forward to my visit to St Michael’s Hospice as a volunteer. I had visited St Michael’s before several times, but I knew that vounteering would be a different perspective and I was keen to help them. St Michael’s is at the heart of our community, and does a marvellous job.
I was volunteering in the In Patient Unit and then with the day therapy team. This included making drinks for the patients, taking lunch orders and participating in the day activities.
St Michael’s is a special place. By definition a hospice deals with very difficult circumstances – situations that every family will have to face at some stage but that does not make it easy. It is really hard. But the team – professional and volunteer – could not be more caring; the atmosphere is loving and calm and cheerful.