As part of Volunteers' Week this week, Shaun Hennessey - who got involved at The Bureau in Glossop as a driver at the start of the pandemic - has written a first-hand account of his experiences as a volunteer...
When the world took a handbrake turn in the Spring of 2020 and a great many of us looked for a new purpose, I initially turned to the ‘key work’ of retail.
However, I was beaten to Tesco by the students and to driving delivery vans by ... who knows. So, aside from an outdoor gig, singing hits from the Fifties and Sixties to the trapped and enthusiastic residents of Whitfield House, my initial contribution (apart from keeping myself and my family sane) was minimal.
Then my wife suggested I get involved with The Bureau. Well, I had no idea what The Bureau was or what it did – so I had a look. They did loads!!! But, with Covid hugely affecting the rate and volume of non-Covid hospital admissions, what The Bureau was keenest on was voluntary drivers to help make sure that the old and the vulnerable could make those rare ‘golden ticket’ hospital appointments they’d been granted! So, I got involved. I got checked and provided adequate identification and assurances.
Then, in September 2020, I did my first Bureau volunteer drive from Simmondley to Tameside Hospital. And my ‘client’ (posh, technical speak for ‘punter’) and his wife were extremely grateful.
At first, I perceived the job was just politely driving people to and from clinical appointments in a safe environment. Ostensibly, that’s what it says on the tin! But, my word, it’s soooooo much more than that. A volunteer Bureau driver is, for the duration of the drive, a friend, a companion and a confidante.
Some people want to keep themselves to themselves. Some people want to keep to key facts and small talk. But, the vast, vast majority of people, desperate to be out of their homes and residences for the first time in a long time, just want to talk about moments of the long lives they’ve led and, most of all, be acknowledged in the leading of those lives. They want to talk about the partners they care for or have loved and lost. The careers that once kept them fulfilled.
The children they miss like crazy who now live far away with the grandchildren they also miss like crazy. They want to talk about the ‘heroes’ who’ve helped them overcome insurmountable odds. Or how they don’t mind coping with their partner’s dementia but, perhaps, wouldn’t mind a pat on the back every now and then. They want to talk about the first record they bought. Their favourite actor. Aldi. Lidl. The new oven that looks fantastic. The iPhone they’ve been given but can’t use.
And, within all of these things, they want you to be involved; to show a genuine interest. To laugh or be sympathetic or – sometimes – do both, simultaneously. They want to still matter – especially on the way to another dreaded appointment – and they want you to acknowledge, unreservedly, that they do still matter; and that their place in the great scheme of things, no matter how much time is ahead of them, is still vitally important...
At least – that’s what I get from being a volunteer driver. And I’m happy to help. I’m an actor by trade, you see, so I’m well versed in listening and responding, which would be a great discipline to draw upon if all the ‘clients’ were dull and boring... But they’re not – they’re endlessly engaging and fascinating and – above all – special.
So, despite being an actor, I’m now looking to branch out and help people in a similar way to the wonderfully rewarding world of volunteer driving. And it’s all because The Bureau helped me to do what they do every single day of the year without fail: Make a difference.