Throughout the pandemic, health secretary Matt Hancock and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have both been on record praising the many volunteers who have contributed in significant ways.
Community Action Suffolk has been helping many community groups and volunteers to play their role across the county over recent months.
Here’s how a few of those people have been taking part.
Jamie Nunn entered lockdown as a successful salon owner, with a track record in creative beauty which had seen him work with numerous celebrities and on high profile shows like X Factor.
What he never anticipated, however, is that less than a year later he would be at the heart of a dynamic volunteering effort which has enrolled close to 100 people from his local community, and has helped hundreds access their vaccine.
Jamie, 38, has run the successful Haverhill-based Matilda Rose Nails & Beauty Salon for the last nine years.
In March, as the world ground to a halt and his industry was placed on pause, he was determined to put his newly acquired time to good use.
“I’m someone who likes to be busy, so when salons were going to have to close, and I knew that my six staff would be without a routine to keep them connected too, I decided I needed to do something productive that would help local people,” he says.
“I started a group called the Matilda Rose Action Squad – the names are taken from my nieces – and I used social media to see who in the Haverhill area would be interested in helping me deliver shopping, pick up prescriptions or take people to appointments.
“It was amazing how quickly it grew. Friends told friends, and my staff were brilliant. Everyone wanted to get involved and volunteer in a way which would make a difference.”
After building a network of around 100 volunteers and delivering shopping regularly to 200 homes throughout the year, Jamie’s next challenge came when the vaccine rollout was announced.
“It was obvious that vaccine transportation was going to be a big issue for lots of the people we’d been helping,” Jamie continued.
“Many in the Haverhill and surrounding area are elderly and without transport, or were nervous about getting to a vaccine centre.
“I spoke to a couple of taxi firms, and to our existing volunteers. Thankfully Star Cars Haverhill and TG Travel were immediately keen to help and offered their time to ferry people to the various locations.
“We’ve been averaging about 10 to 15 trips a day, travelling to centres in Haverhill but also areas like Newmarket and Long Melford.”
Jamie believes his volunteering experience has been a ‘complete saving grace’ during lockdown, and he thinks many people will have changed their attitude to voluntary activity for the long term.
“For me, it’s been such a blessing to be able to continue to see people and make a positive difference in the community throughout all these months,” he said.
“I’m just not someone who can ‘do nothing’ so it’s been great for my mental health, but has also been a huge source of positivity for my staff, and for people who live in this area who would have felt much more alone if we weren’t out there helping them.
“My impression is that most of us who have got involved in some kind of community volunteering will want to continue doing so long after life gets back to normal. I’ve every intention of carrying this on for as long as people need us.”
Jan Devey was already actively involved in her community of Hadleigh when the pandemic first arrived.
For some years, she had been running the social programme for a local ladies group, and then moved into a role for the PPG (patient participation group) associated with her local surgery.
By the time a vaccine rollout was being discussed, 77-year-old Jan was Chair of the Patient Participation Group and perfectly placed to ensure the community’s access to the jab sessions could be made smoother for everyone.
“As soon as the vaccinations programme had been talked about, I could see that the logistical side of it was going to be really important, and that it could be a challenge for Hadleigh because of the town’s situation with parking,” she says.
“I put the PPG team forward to handle the manning of the car park, and quickly had 35 names of people willing to assist.
“We’ve worked closely with the Town Council – who gave us some money to get walkie talkies and high vis jackets – and with the GP practice itself, and that group collaboration has meant that we’ve been able to run a really efficient volunteer-led process.”
Jan, who is retired and lives in Hadleigh with her husband, says the response from the vast majority of people has been one of huge appreciation and kindness.
“It’s very rewarding to be out there seeing everyone and realising how grateful people are to be getting their vaccine.
“I’ve made so many new friends and I’m sure we’ll all be much closer as a community as a result of this.”
Wendy Cullingworth is chair of the Good Neighbour Scheme in Horringer, and is no stranger to community based volunteer support.
When Covid struck, she and her committee sprang into action to ask for more voluntary help among the younger generation of residents.
“While we’d always had a good number of volunteers before the pandemic, we realised that it was those elderly people who would now be shielding and in more need, so we leafleted locally to get a younger team of people to come forward,” she says.
“We were delighted that 35 came forward really quickly, so with the help of Community Action Suffolk we were able to get some DBS checks done, and give people guidance about safe shopping for neighbours.
“During the various lockdowns we’ve done things like food shopping, picking up prescriptions, walking dogs, and making befriending phone calls to about 60 people.
“We even had an opportunity to host an ‘in person’ event in the local pub when things were less restricted in the summer.”
Wendy, who chairs the scheme, says the volunteering activity has not only been a lifeline to those who have been living alone and have needed help, but it has brought a real sense of community and purpose to everyone who volunteered to get involved.
For more information on volunteering, head to Volunteer Suffolk’s website: