Suffolk schools thank invaluable volunteers who ensured safe, efficient and friendly schools testing to help young people back to education establishments.
“Our school has a collective and collaborative approach to all that we do, together we can make amazing things happen and testing has been no exception to this.” (Stoke High School)
Volunteers across the county have been supporting the rollout of School Rapid Testing Programme this week. In line with guidance from Government, schools were asked to quickly mobilise and enable testing of all their young people to ensure they could transition quickly and smoothly back into classrooms following the school closures at the start of this year. With staff teams already having significant pressure on their time as young people came back to the school environment, help and support from local communities was essential to alleviate further pressure of 9 days testing.
Following a pilot partnership with Volunteering Matters, Community Action Suffolk have worked alongside Ipswich Academy, Stoke High School and Thomas Gainsborough School to quickly recruit over 30 enthusiastic volunteers to support and deliver the School Rapid Testing Programme.
With very little notice, volunteers with a range of skills and experiences, put themselves forward to help their local school prioritise the safety of young people and their families over the last 2 weeks.
What the schools said:
“Scaling up from 40 student tests to testing the whole school was a daunting task. We were incredibly grateful for the support we received from Community Action Suffolk because within days they were able to find us the most amazing volunteers. The commitment they have given to our school and our students has been overwhelming and we are incredibly grateful and indebted to them. They have been invaluable in ensuring that we have been able to deliver a safe, efficient, and friendly testing programme. Our students are beginning to see them as part of the Stoke furniture and actively seek them out when it is their turn to be tested again.
We hope that they will continue to be a part of our school community and engage with us in supporting our students to achieve their best and inspire them to see the wealth of experiences and jobs that are on offer. I hope that we have started to build the foundations of some fantastic relationships with our volunteers and very much look forward to working with them again.
Our staff, students and volunteers have made our testing programme a logistical success – and I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone involved. Our school has a collective and collaborative approach to all that we do, together we can make amazing things happen and testing has been no exception to this.”
Stoke High School
“From all of us at Ipswich Academy, we want to say a big thank you to our community volunteers who have supported our pupils return to school by helping with the Covid-19 lateral flow testing. As you can imagine it’s been a huge undertaking to ensure everyone can return to school safely and their support has meant our staff have been able to focus on settling pupils back into the classroom, teaching and learning. We are extremely proud of our community and couldn’t have done it without them.”
The volunteer experience:
We asked our volunteers why they put themselves forward as a School Rapid Testing Volunteer and what their experience was like. Responses included: a way to help the young people return to school and support the country get back to some sort of normality; utilising their time during furlough and providing structure to keep their days busy; to a more general sense of pride in the country’s response to the vaccine and testing programme. They all agreed unanimously it was a very worthwhile endeavour. As always, Suffolk’s residents want to help.
“The last year has been far from normal and lockdown has been very tough on schoolchildren. For the schools to get back to normal they have to test all pupils three times over two week. This is a huge undertaking, but many hands do make light work, and when I saw the call-out from Community Action Suffolk I jumped at the chance to do my bit to help.” Chris, Volunteer
All the volunteers enjoyed interacting with young people, seeing the smiles that came from returning to school, and being the friendly face as students familiarised themselves with what could have been quite a daunting process.
“What I enjoyed most from my volunteering experience was being able to be able to gently coach the children through what is not a pleasant experience and to give them the confidence to be able to undertake effective self testing when they have to start doing this at home on their own.” Chris, Volunteer
What is most heartwarming is hearing the positive experiences of the volunteers and the start of some excellent relationships with local schools. Our friendly Suffolk schools welcomed their volunteers with thanks and support, taking them through all the stringent requirements of lateral flow testing and how to make the experience as easy as possible for the young people involved. With only 2 to 3 minutes of time with each student, building a quick rapport was key to making sure they had the most positive experience they could. Feeling part of something bigger and doing their bit to help others was also perhaps the greatest reward.
As volunteer Chris put it, “Working with a great bunch of fellow volunteers and the school staff is a lovely way to spend a few hours and knowing that it really is helping is a great feeling. With every secondary school in the entire country being required to test every single student, three times, over two weeks, the job is massive, especially as the school also needs to provide a normal timetable at the same time. By providing the school with extra pairs of volunteering hands, it helps them to provide a near normal service during these very abnormal times. By getting the kids into school we can all help them get back to being schoolchildren again, enjoying being in a safe environment, with their friends, learning in the old-fashioned classroom-based way. This is what we are all aiming for.”
Volunteering also has many benefits for the individual themselves. All our volunteers have said they would recommend it to others for many reasons, but let’s not forget, we are all going through some degree of isolation at the moment. Whether you live alone, are working from home, furloughed or indeed your children have gone back to school leaving an ‘empty nest’ (or any variation of the above), it is likely that you might experience periods of loneliness. Volunteering is an excellent way to support your own mental health, feel a sense of satisfaction, purpose and pride.
As Volunteer Becca put it, “I would highly recommend volunteering if you are able to and have the time. It has really helped me these past couple of weeks. I feel a lot better when I am busy and have purpose to my day. I am very happy that I have been able to play a part in the safe return of pupils to school and fingers crossed they are able to stay back at school. I also see that schools going back will help me in my role working in football, so I feel the more I could do to help when I have the time the better.”
As we now move along the government ‘roadmap’ and our nation’s hope grows again, at Community Action Suffolk we are so proud of every one of our volunteers across the county doing whatever they can to support others – whether it is schools testing, good neighbours or helping other charities and individuals. In the words of school volunteer, Ian, I think we can all be
“Proud. Pleased – and (maybe) a wee bit tired!”
Christine Abraham, Chief Executive of Community Action Suffolk expressed her thanks by saying, “On behalf of CAS and all the schools we have worked with, we would like to wholeheartedly thank every volunteer who has given up their time to get Suffolk’s young people back to school – you put yourselves forward without hesitation and we simply couldn’t have done it without you. Volunteers are an invaluable resource wherever they make their mark, but in this instance particularly, they played an essential part in an international effort to move through the pandemic and ensure future generations can resume their education at school and interact with others which will no doubt positively impact on their wellbeing. For that, we are all indebted to them.”
If you would like to find a volunteer role to suit you, please visit https://volunteersuffolk.org.uk/ to register your interest.