Essex unites to say thank you in volunteer week

The Covid-19 pandemic may have shut shops, kept families apart and stopped fundraising events but the community of Essex has gone the extra mile to look out for one another in all parts of the county during the lockdown.

This Volunteer’s Week, running from 1st-7th June, we would like to thank the residents of Essex who signed up in lockdown to help others in their time of need.

As the county faced many different challenges during Covid-19, communities, the voluntary sector and public sector services have come together and stepped up to hep our residents. From fireman being deployed for charity work, to police officers stepping into many new roles and local authority workers giving a diverse range of essential support, everyone has worked together and risen to the challenge of the pandemic.

Volunteering truly does show community spirit at its very best.

More than 50 volunteers currently offer their time to Healthwatch Essex in our work to make health and care services meet the needs of local people. We are proud to work alongside them, ensuring that their voices and lived experiences are at the heart of improving and co-producing local services.

Our volunteers are regularly out talking and listening to people in the community, finding out what is good and what could be improved. They are often found at community events, but also visit the services themselves to speak to patients and gather their views. Volunteers also give advice and information about the NHS and social care services to the public, as well as provide vital behind-the-scenes support in roles like admin work.

By helping people have their say about NHS and local health and social care services, volunteers at Healthwatch Essex donated hours of their time last year and have been involved in numerous projects including:

  • Maternity Patient Partners raised concerns and shared experiences of support regarding infant feeding in the antenatal and early postnatal period which has led to local Infant Feeding Specialists producing an improvement plan to be implemented in 2020/21 throughout Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
  • Our Young Mental Health Ambassadors, a growing network of over 25 young people across Essex, continue to embark on their co-production journey as the mental health services develop. They have been involved in reviewing toolkits targeting young people’s wellbeing for University of Essex researchers plus have provided ongoing feedback on the Kooth online counselling service.
  • Forum members have been an integral part of Collaborate Essex through Essex County Council and have used their networks to reach out to the hard to reach groups across a range of disability cohorts. This disability forum which meets quarterly at County Hall, Chelmsford has discussed topics that matter to the community and allows voices to be heard by senior commissioners who can influence positive change.

Cheryl Huggins, Volunteer and Engagement Officer at Healthwatch Essex, said: “In essence, our volunteers are the heart beat of our charity. By encouraging co-production, our volunteers are empowered to speak up, share their story and that of others, ultimately shaping a new way forward in health and social care services. I’d like to say a very special thank you to all of our volunteers. Their enthusiasm never ceases to amaze me and we could not achieve the breadth of impact within our work without each and every one of them.

Dan Potts, Volunteer and Engagement Officer at Healthwatch Essex, said: “With what has been, at times, a challenging first year I would like to say a huge thank you to our Collaborate Essex Forum Members. Their hard work, engaging with their local disability groups, has been nothing short of superb when it comes to allowing voices to be heard in Essex. The hours put in by everyone and the commitment shown has been truly inspiring and from me and everyone working at Healthwatch we cannot thank you enough. I am excited and look forward to continuing this collaborate way of working in the future.”

If you would like to contribute to shaping and influencing your local health, social care and wellbeing services, Healthwatch Essex would love to hear about your experiences. Details of our various volunteering opportunities can be found here.

All volunteers with Healthwatch Essex are given a comprehensive ambassador handbook and log-in to an online portal to access participation opportunities, as well as receive Active Listening training. Dependent on project, stakeholders are also encouraged to provide training to our volunteers, to familiarise themselves with the environment that they will be working in. Out of pocket expenses are also reimbursed.

If you are unable to volunteer, you can still make a difference by sharing your experiences of health and social care services in Essex with us. No matter how big or small, we want to hear about it. Click here to share your experience or speak to our Information & Signposting Team confidentially via phone 0300 500 1895, text 07712 395 398 or email info@healthwatchessex.org.uk