As Volunteers Week 2020 gets underway this week, the new Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor Brian Tierney, today in his first official day in office led the tributes to the hundreds of local volunteers who are delivering vital services across the City and District.
Never has the role of volunteering been more important as communities rally to respond to the challenges presented by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has left many families and those with health issues in desperate need as the realities of the emergency have unfolded.
The local community and voluntary sector have responded swiftly, putting in place a network of support – driven mainly by the 860 volunteers who have stepped up to help.
Mayor Tierney, who has been assisting the effort himself working with local groups to distribute emergency food and supplies, said that Volunteers Week provided the opportunity now to say a huge thank you to those who have been connecting and supporting those in need.
"As I begin my term as Mayor of Derry and Strabane I am delighted to take the opportunity to extend my warmest thanks to the many volunteers who are working on the ground to make life better for those around them," the declared.
"The COVID-19 situation brings into sharp focus the crucial work that is being done by our local community and voluntary sector. As the level of need escalated they stepped up to provide the support needed to sustain local communities throughout this crisis.
"It has been a phenomenal effort and one which is recognised and appreciated by the people of Derry and Strabane. It's time to say thank you – so this week please think of our volunteers and the vital lifeline they provide."
The Volunteers Week campaign is being led locally by the North West Volunteer Centre (NWVC), which works to connect people with volunteering opportunities, and the campaign will focus on a range of themes. The Derry City Council Building in Strand Road and the Tinnies sculpture in Strabane will remain illuminated this week as a mark of celebration and appreciation of local volunteers.
Manager of the North West Volunteer Centre, Jacqui Garnon, said: "Throughout the week we want to raise awareness of the wide variety of volunteering opportunities on offer and the many benefits to both the volunteer and those they are helping.
"This year we have had to celebrate the week in a different way due to COVID-19 but the current situation also amplifies the message that volunteering has a vital role to play in our society. I hope people will take the time to reflect on the role played by volunteers - not just during this current emergency - but in a wide spectrum of areas."
The North West Volunteer Centre is core funded by the Department of Communities under the Volunteer Infrastructure Support Programme and also receives funding from Derry and Strabane District Council's Grant Aid Programme.
A snapshot from around the City and District
Brighter Ballymagorry Development Group collect for NHS
Brighter Ballymagorry Development Group and BBD Walking Group volunteers and members decided to do their bit to help the NHS after hearing about the shortage of items for Altnagelvin Hospital. The walking group are in regular contact with the Health Improvement Team at the Trust, and got in touch with them to find out what they needed most for the hospital.
As a gesture of support the Group erected signage on the grass verge in the middle of village expressing solidarity with our frontline workers. They got to work collecting toiletries, small bottles of water, single wrap food items, cereals, porridge pots protein bars, and wrapped fresh fruit such as bananas and oranges.
In the first week the group held two afternoons when the public could donate items at Fox Lodge CC. They were inundated with donations of toiletries and bottled water and donations which they used to order the specific food items from The Village Store Artigarvan.
Over a six-week period the group delivered three consignments to the Western Trust U3A Building Gransha park. They also received £935 in cash donations to purchase food items, water, toiletries and fresh fruit, with local business also donating items.
Churchtown Community Association reaches out to those in isolation
As the extent of the COVID-19 emergency became evident and those with health conditions and aged over 70 were advised to shield, isolation became a major issue for many, especially those living in rural communities. In response Churchtown Community Association decided to reach out to those deemed vulnerable with a special befriending service that helps identify the needs of those without support from friends and family.
Denise Harpur is a Community Response COVID-19 telephone befriender on behalf of the group, which builds on a pilot they had launched last year, as she explained.
"The service has followed on from a community companion/befriending service which was a pilot project that took place from October 2019 to February 2020, therefore it was a natural progression that following lockdown I would keep in touch with my client base and expand upon it via a daily telephone call.
"This gives me a chance to check on their wellbeing both physically and mentally. As quite a number of people are considered in the age group of being vulnerable, as well as a number of shielders, they now have the reassurance of daily contact. I run errands for them such as picking up groceries, getting prescriptions and even placing flowers on a loved one's grave.
"My main aim is to reduce their sense of isolation and loneliness and keep a check on their mental health in these uncertain times."
Owen Roe O'Neill's shine at Moorlough
To show their support for the community effort against COVID-19 Owen Roes GAA Club decided to hold an event to raise some much needed funds for local charities.
As the team are currently going through their own sporting lockdown they really wanted to use their time in a positive way and do their bit to help their local community.
At the beginning of May the adult footballers of the club undertook a sunrise to sunset challenge around Moorlough.
46 members of the Club's football teams ran a series of 5km legs around the lough commencing at 5.45am and finishing up at 9.30pm that evening – a real challenge as they had to observe strict social distancing rules at all times.
When they set out the Club had aimed to raise £2000 for five local charities. However, thanks to the generosity of the community the Leckpatrick Club raised a massive total of £21,500.
Strathfoyle Community Association deliver smiles to the doorsteps
When the schools closed and local children had to come to terms with staying at home for the foreseeable future, missing their friends and teachers, one local group decided they would try to do something to reach out.
The volunteers at Strathfoyle Community Association took time out to bring a smile to the faces of residents in Maydown, Westlake and Strathfoyle.
Disney and Friends entertained young and old when they took to the streets to spread some cheer and provide a welcome distraction for local children. And for those feeling isolated at this time, Good Morning Strathfoyle volunteers continued to check up on the area's most vulnerable residents and ensure they were feeling connected.
Sollus swap pipe playing for PPE production
The Sollus Centre at Bready has been a hive of industry in recent weeks producing a phenomenal 5,500 face masks to protect frontline medical workers and carers.
Bready and District Ulster Scots Association have been working around the clock to produce the masks which are made on a laser cutter at the centre, which has become a manufacturing hub for the local area.
James Kee from the Ulster Scots Association was inspired by his daughter's role as a nurse which spurred the group on with their plans to support the NHS.
To date the group have raised £2,000 towards materials and have so far purchased 259 yards of fabric. The masks have now been distributed to hospitals and care facilities throughout NI, and more are now in production. Orders can be placed by phone, and collected from outside the centre in adherence with the social distancing guidelines – you can contact Sollus on 02871 841892.
The group also continues to keep its focus on the celebration of Ulster Scots Culture with some online dancing and music classes.
Castlederg rallies to provide network of community support
Derg Valley Care Healthy Living Centre has been overcoming the challenges of social distancing and continuing to deliver a wide range of online activities to support and promote health and wellbeing during COVID-19.
The service have developed a number of online activities which include weekly yoga classes, Health and Wellbeing Mindfulness programmes and how to deal with stress during lockdown sessions. The sessions are delivered by qualified facilitators who have worked with Derg Valley Care for a number of years.
Participants known to DVC get a text or e-mail to make them aware of the sessions, and to reach other people we send out the link by e-mail. The group also issues a weekly newsletter through its network of community partners organisations, GP surgeries and faith organisations.
There are up to 80 people participating in the sessions and feedback has been very positive to date.
Other support services in the Castlederg area include meals on wheels, pharmacy collections, a befriending telephone service and foodbank support all delivered by a dedicated team of volunteers.