Chelmsford CVS has been on the front line of local support services for the city during the pandemic.

Chief Officer Lorraine Jarvis and Volunteer Centre Manager Sally Medd tell City Life how Chelmsfordians have risen to the huge challenges presented by Covid-19 and what the future holds for the city’s voluntary sector as things open up again.

Q. Tell us what Chelmsford CVS does

Lorraine Jarvis: We’re an infrastructure charity known as Chelmsford Centre Supporting Voluntary Action and currently work with over 300 charities or voluntary and community groups in the area. Sometimes the voluntary sector is called the third sector. I think it should be called the first sector really!

Across Essex there are between 8,000 and 10,000 voluntary sector organisations. They can be very big ones with staff like Farleigh Hospice, or they can be very, very small like a neighbourhood group. Here in Chelmsford we’ve got a mixture of them and they all do amazing things.

Q. What work have you’ve been doing over the last year?

Sally Medd: From the very start of the pandemic, Chelmsford CVS has been the main point of contact for volunteering in the city. Back in March 2020 we set up a helpline and created and coordinated an incredible cohort of volunteers to deliver services to those in need. We’ve been delivering prescriptions, making welfare calls and door-step visits, making key referrals to other services, working with Chelmsford City Council to sort out food shopping for people, and organising prescriptions and any essential thing that people were panicking about.

We’ve also helped local charities throughout the pandemic, giving crucial advice to existing organisations and supporting new groups to start. It’s been an incredible amount of additional work, but it’s been such a positive experience and we’re proud to have played a key role in supporting our city.

Volunteer Ashraf collecting supplies from a pharmacy. He has been awarded an MBE for his Covid volunteering

Q. How have Chelmsford residents responded to those in need?

Lorraine Jarvis: I truly believe that Chelmsford’s a very special place. Usually, if we put a call to action out there, people will come, and I feel so fortunate to work in an area where that happens.

People’s generosity of their time and their giving has been amazing, and many coronavirus support groups are still going. Our biggest one in Danbury has gone from strength to strength. They’re continuing to support their elderly residents and families, because they still need help when this period is over.

Supplies being delivered in Danbury

Q. How has the last year changed volunteering in the city?

Sally Medd: Prior to lockdown, many of the volunteers that charities traditionally relied upon were retired or older people, and so overnight a lot of our charities lost their normal volunteer force. But lots of new volunteers came forward – people we’d never engaged with before who might normally have been working full time.

We’ve also had an amazing response to our push for vaccine volunteers over the last few months. We have 325 vaccine volunteers spread across four Chelmsford surgeries, and we supported two others with advice and information. We’re also supplying volunteers to mass vaccination centres and for testing in schools.

Vaccine volunteers in action

Q. What’s been the impact of the pandemic on the city’s voluntary sector?

Lorraine Jarvis: The biggest impact has been on the finances of charities. Some local charities are running on a deficit or on reserves. We did a survey halfway through the year and we found that without urgent funding some potentially will close.

A lot of charities rely on fundraising from the public and very few of these activities have been able to happen over the last year. This has had a devastating effect; although some things have happened virtually, you just can’t generate the same level of fundraising income that you can with physical events. There’s also going to be increased demand for services so charities of all kinds are going to have increasing demand and decreasing resource to respond to that demand.

Q. Are things getting easier as we come out of lockdown?

Lorraine Jarvis: It’s tempting to feel that things will get back to normal as things open up again isn’t it? But we can’t underestimate the pressures people have been under. Some people’s lives will have changed completely and whereas they may never have needed help from organisations like Citizens’ Advice, a foodbank, or a children’s centre, they may need that support now.

We’ll also be needing to help lots of people who have been stuck in their house for so long that they have become deconditioned and not as physically active as when they went in.

Sally Medd: Over the last few months we’ve been trying to assist those we’ve been supporting to become more independent, doing their own shopping and arranging things like prescription deliveries for themselves, because it’s a big worry that when this period is over and not in anyone’s minds any more, those people could be left without services they’ve been relying on.

The difficulties we all experienced in lockdown are what normal everyday life is like for some people. We mustn’t forget about them as things open up because they will still need our support both formally and informally within our communities.

Getting in touch

If you’d like to volunteer or you’re a Chelmsford charity needing help and support, get in touch with the team at Chelmsford CVS. You can find out all about their services on their website at chelmsfordcvs.org.uk.

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