Volunteers’ Week 2016: Meet heroes from Stevenage, Hitchin and more who give their time to a host of good causes

Pam Biggs has been volunteering as a community first responder for 11 years in Hitchin.

Pam Biggs has been volunteering as a community first responder for 11 years in Hitchin. - Credit: Archant

Volunteers are the unsung heroes of communities, giving their time, skills and commitment to a host of industries, schemes and good causes – often for no other reason than the desire to make a small difference to someone’s day.

Jo Mills volunteers for Action on Hearing Loss by giving talks in the community.

Jo Mills volunteers for Action on Hearing Loss by giving talks in the community. - Credit: Archant

Volunteers’ Week – which runs until Sunday – is an annual celebration of the contribution 21 million volunteers up and down the country make every year, and we’ve spoken to some from our area to find out why they give up their time for free.

When Stevenage’s Carolyn Linsell retired, she began volunteering at the Herts-based Willow Foundation’s charity shop in The Hyde for one morning a week.

The charity, which provides special days for 16 to 40 year olds with serious illnesses, is close to the former nursery teacher’s heart as they helped her 26-year-old nephew Tom, who has Hodgkins lymphoma.

“What Willow does for these young people who are suffering is just fantastic,” she said.

Richard Thomas has been a Whitbread Wanderbus volunteer driver for five years.

Richard Thomas has been a Whitbread Wanderbus volunteer driver for five years. - Credit: Archant


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Former tube driver Richard Thomas, from Meppershall, has been volunteering for Shefford-based Whitbread Wanderbus for five years.

Richard drives the bus two mornings a month, and trains and assesses new volunteers.

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The Wanderbus service is unique in that drivers are able to drop passengers off near their homes.

Richard said his oldest passenger is 92.

Carolyn Linsell, left, and Joan Blythe who volunteer at the Willow Foundation's charity shop at The

Carolyn Linsell, left, and Joan Blythe who volunteer at the Willow Foundation's charity shop at The Hyde in Stevenage. - Credit: Archant

He said: “I started volunteering on the buses when I retired because it had always been a professional and social interest of mine.

“The most rewarding part is fulfilling this essential service, because in some cases it’s the difference between the passengers going out and socialising with people or not being able to get out at all.”

David Cannon from Hitchin has volunteered with Herts County Council’s Countryside Management Service for nearly 30 years and currently helps manage Oughtonhead Common nature reserve and leads a weekly health walk.

David said: “I have learnt new skills, become fitter and stronger and made new friends.

Health walk leader David Cannon said that volunteering has made him fitter and stronger.

Health walk leader David Cannon said that volunteering has made him fitter and stronger. - Credit: Archant

“I get great satisfaction from improving habitats for wildlife and seeing the benefits first hand.”

Jo Mills, from Stevenage, was inspired to give talks at the town’s Rotary clubs on hearing loss by her daughter who has otosclerosis, and has raised £2,000 in the last year for Action on Hearing Loss.

She said: “Rotary is a very caring association and I enjoy speaking at my local clubs who always make me feel very welcome.

“I would definitely recommend this role to other people and those looking to volunteer for an important cause.”

Retired Pam Biggs has been a community first responder in Hitchin for 11 years and is usually first on the scene at medical emergencies to give life-saving care until the paramedics arrive to take over.

She said: “I used to be a nurse, but you don’t need a medical background to be a CFR – we all get training and support from the ambulance service.”

CFRs don’t go to trauma incidents or deal with the under twos, but they are trained in incidents from cardiac arrests to choking.

“Some people use it as a stepping stone to become a paramedic, which can mean they move on to bigger things so we always need volunteers,” added Pam.

Volunteering can mean you can lend your skills to a cause, learn something new or get to do something you wouldn’t usually get the chance to do.

Herts County Council has launched a year-long campaign to promote the benefits of volunteering – whether that’s lending your skills to a cause or learning and experiencing something new – as well as celebrating the contribution of those who volunteer already.

For more information go to hertfordshire.gov.uk/about-the-council/news/year-of-volunteering or visit nhcvs.org.uk for volunteering opportunities near you.

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