Today, we highlight the work of this fantastic charity and get to know a little bit more about how it strengthens the communities in which it operates. We meet Ann Bunting, the Volunteer Centre Manager and Emma Cameron, the Shop Manager and allow them to tell us the charity's story.
Both Ann and Emma have backgrounds working in the charity sector and both now find themselves working for Huntingdonshire Volunteer Centre (HVC) in the heart of Cambridgeshire. They talk to us about the work that HVC does across 4 principal communities in Huntingdon, Ramsey, St Ives and St Neots, give us an insight into the impact that Covid19 has had on their activities and explain how they have overcome some of the challenges of lockdown.
What is the charity’s background?
HVC was previously separate volunteer bureaux based across 4 areas in Ramsey, St Ives, Huntingdon and St Neots. These bureaux have been operating for some 30-40 years but a merger of the bureaux around 10 years ago saw the birth of HVC in its current form.
What are the charity’s objects?
Broadly, the charity’s stated objects are to support Huntingdonshire communities through volunteering. It operates from bases in each of the four main towns, providing some services directly and others by putting volunteers in touch with other charities. It works to develop and market volunteering opportunities and good practice in the support of volunteers.
However, the charity has developed a much more holistic, innovative approach to its work to help broaden its impact. In short, HVC supports the communities of Huntingdonshire and surrounding areas by actively engaging the residents, promoting the benefits of volunteering and encouraging the involvement of volunteers in HVC’s activities, such as its Community Car Scheme and its ‘charity shop with a difference’ called ‘Huntingdon Together’.
What does the charity do?
HVC has a number of core activities:
Community Car Scheme: The most well-known of HVC’s activities is its Community Car Scheme. HVC operates 4 community car schemes across Huntingdon, Ramsey, St Ives and St Neots. These areas are largely rural so people can be isolated. There is a limited public transport network and taxis are expensive.
Effectively, to help combat loneliness, isolation and detachment and to help build a sense of community and develop a support network, HVC matches volunteer drivers to local residents that need to undertake essential journeys, such as medical and other appointments or social events.
HVC conducts checks on both the drivers and their vehicles, including vehicle health checks, character references and DBS checks. Individual volunteer drivers are paid a mileage rate directly and HVC also receives a mileage rate for every journey made, along with a nominal booking fee.
It is important to note that the volunteer drivers do not need business use insurance for their vehicles because they are volunteers and also that the County Council covers liability on any accidents volunteers may have in the course of their volunteering duties so that the volunteer drivers do not lose their ‘no claims’ bonus.
Pre-Covid19, the existing 80-100 HVC volunteer drivers made over 12,700 journeys, covering over 95,000 miles, helping over 6,300 residents. Hospital appointments were the single largest essential journey, accounting for 34% of the total.
These figures give a sense of the enormity of the community car scheme operation and as you can imagine, managing the scheme across 4 different sites takes some organisation.
Charity Shop: The ‘Huntingdon Together’ shop started up in 2015. It is a traditional charity shop, but with a difference, as it runs a ‘Surplus share’ scheme for donated items of surplus food from supermarkets and a local bakery. This shop linked up with local allotment owners to make fresh fruit and vegetables available for those in need. However, by their own admission, the charity found this structure a little erratic so, to its credit, it innovated and pursued a different path.
Linking up with large local retailers, such as Greggs, Tesco and Waitrose and the Co-Op through its local distribution centre, the shop introduced a ‘Take What You Need, Give What You Can’ model. The shop organises volunteers to pick up surplus food from its partners, packages them up appropriately, displays them in the ‘Community fridge’ and makes them available to the whole of the community on a ‘take what you need, give what you can’ basis.
The charity shop sells competitively priced clothes, bedding, books and other goods. The shop has become a real community hub since opening and has more than 20 regular volunteers helping to sort, display and sell the stock. These volunteers are all ages and include some with special needs, who consider the shop as an extension of their own support network.
NATTER Group: based in St Neots to create a befriending service and to help prevent isolation, HVC set up the Neighbourly Afternoon Tea Time Exchanging Reminiscences group, funded through help from the People’s Health Trust Lottery. The name of this group is self-explanatory.
What is the structure of the charity?
The charity has a solid structure, strategically managed by an experienced and inclusive board of 12 trustees, consisting of at least 2 representatives from each of the 4 areas that HVC covers, including town council representatives. The current Chair is a retired teacher and local councillor and the trustee board has a broad and diverse skill set, including HR, marketing and IT specialist experience. The trustee body also includes volunteer drivers.
There are 6 committed, part-time, paid staff members, 4 of whom are based in the charity’s offices:
Emma is the charity shop manager and Ann, the Volunteer Centre Manager, is responsible for, among many other things, the operational and strategic management of the charity.
All staff were furloughed, apart from Debbie in St Ives, who managed a centralised car scheme during lockdown 1.
There are a staggering 100+ volunteers that regularly support the work of HVC.
Where does the charity operate from?
Such is the success and need for the charity, and because of the geographical locations that it covers, it operates out of 4 premises:
Ann would not be drawn on which site is the most luxurious!
What impact has the Covid19 pandemic had on the charity?
Almost all of HVC’s specific activities involve direct, face to face interaction with their beneficiaries so, as with the economy and charity sector as a whole, their offer suffered hugely.
Community Car Scheme: During the first national lockdown in the summer months, there were only 175 journeys recorded, covering just 4,000 miles. This had a huge financial impact on HVC as this is its principal source of income. In addition to the financial impact, many of the volunteer drivers were classed in vulnerable groups so they had to stay home. Obviously, local residents, who are already often vulnerable and isolated, felt the impact of lockdown more than most as they were no longer able to travel. HVC did implement a centralised operation from its St Ives premises to accommodate essential and emergency journeys that had to be undertaken during lockdown. They also encouraged volunteer drivers and residents to keep in touch by telephone regularly during the lockdown months.
Charity Shop: The shop is a community hub and as such, visitors and volunteers become reliant on it. As well as the obvious financial impact in that the shop had to close and thus did not generate its normal income stream, the unavailability of basic essentials for those in need and the loss of that human interaction that the shop provided for more vulnerable members of the community was very deeply felt. To help counter this, Emma and her volunteer team, again with the kind assistance of their retail partners, delivered ‘goodie bags’ to the shop’s regular visitors. She also set up an EBay account to help her sell some of the shop items and uses online website to price and sell books.
NATTER Group: Unfortunately, this group had to cease completely, meaning that its 25+ regular attendees could not get together nor enjoy their annual trip out.
Summer Family Breakfast Scheme: In 2019, HVC, in collaboration with the local Methodist church and part-funded by the local Freeman Society, HVC ran a hugely successful breakfast club for the children and parents of over 80 families who felt isolated over the summer period. As well as providing food, this event was a real community energiser, bringing fellowship and spirit into the local community. Unfortunately, an event in this form could not take place in 2020, but HVC supported an outdoor Summer Family Brunch which was socially distanced and based in the new Medway Community Centre in Huntingdon.
What are the plans for post-Covid19?
The recovery out of lockdown presents continuing challenges for the charity. Initially, there will have to be an assessment of the impact of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of the charity’s staff, volunteers and trustees and also monitoring the impact on the charity’s beneficiaries, both in terms of the practical help that they need but also the potential impact on their mental health.
Preparing to get back to ‘business as usual’ will incur costs that the charity obviously could not have budgeted for, including making their premises Covid-safe with the use of screens, masks, sanitisers and signage.
As hospitals resume normal appointment and admission services, the community car scheme has seen requests increase. In particular, those being admitted to hospitals for in-patient procedures now have to attend an extra appointment at the hospital for pre-admission Covid tests. HVC must also implement Covid-safe practices, such as volunteer drivers contacting the residents the day before journeys to check whether they have any Covid symptoms, mandatory face mask wearing in all vehicles, passengers in the back of the vehicle only, thorough cleaning of vehicles in between journeys.
In the shop, social distancing measures need to be observed, along with signage making the shop a one-way system and visitors having to pre-book slots to attend the ‘community fridge’. There is also a volunteer on the door, controlling access and queues.
There are plans afoot too to deliver food parcels and goodie bags to local residents in the run-up to Christmas.
As a priority, the charity is keen to get back to full service as soon as possible. It is always looking to secure long-term sustainability funding and in particular, Ann would like to appeal for more volunteer drivers to help them cope with current and future demand for the community car scheme service.
Ann stated that she is comforted and assured by the reputation and standing of the charity in the communities that it serves. The community residents and the charity’s private and public sector partners all acknowledge and appreciate the positive impact that HVC has and as a result, HVC enjoys strong, healthy respect and support in those communities.
Here at Social Responsibility, we are genuinely humbled by the work that small charities undertake in our local communities. We are proud to highlight the brilliant work of Huntingdonshire Volunteer Centre and wish Ann, Emma and all the team at HVC a very merry Christmas and the very best of luck in the coming months!