With the Dons Local Action Group carrying out such fantastic work at this difficult time, we are today launching a series of features on volunteers devoting their time to helping vulnerable people in the community.
Shirley Kennett has been volunteering since the Dons Local Action Group was formed and she has recruited her 15-year-old son Max to the growing Wimbledon squad! According to Shirley, it’s a cause that has brought together people of all ages in support of one common goal – and that’s helping the vulnerable during the Coronavirus outbreak.
The Q&A with Shirley below highlights the impact that this project is having in the community.
What are the main jobs that you are doing on a daily basis?
"I am coordinating phone calls to the recipients of the food boxes, making sure they are okay, and that they are getting what they need. Also, we are identifying if they have any special requirements, for example if they are vegetarian, or have any food allergies. I’m also coordinating the drivers to deliver the weekly food boxes and helping on the food collection points with my 15-year-old son Max. It has been seven days a week.”
What’s it been like getting involved for your son?
“He has been amazing. A friend of Max’s was shopping with his Mum and saw him, so now he’s volunteering too! This shows how the word has spread. The great thing is that it’s all ages getting involved in this community project. Young people get bad press a lot of the time, but some of them have been absolutely phenomenal with the amount of time that they are giving up. It has been brilliant to be involved in this, to see people of all ages stepping forward, and the community really coming together.
“Max was meant to be doing his GCSEs and he enjoys his studies, but this has given him a purpose at a time when he can't go to school. He said that he likes getting up and having something to do. It has shown him the benefits of volunteering and it has opened his eyes. He tells me the deliveries that need doing, so he sees the people that are benefiting from it, and he realises how rewarding volunteering can be. Giving up your time to help in this way can provide real satisfaction. It’s quite a difficult age when they are 15-16 as they are still trying to find themselves as young people. It can be an awkward age, but the ones that have got involved have all started to make friends and add other people to the group – it’s just growing so quickly.”
Why did you decide to get involved?
“I got involved from the beginning because I was one of the people who was helping to deliver the Plough Lane Bond leaflets. I was contacted by the team behind that and it was something I wanted to get involved with. I am actually a private carer and I thought, ‘this is a really worthwhile cause to get involved with’. As it developed, I have come to realise that it’s not just for the elderly as we are also helping people with financial hardships. I have been speaking to single Mums, who are living in small flats with three or four kids. Those we are helping may be living in isolation because one of the family has got the virus, or an illness that says they cannot go out, and the kids are getting frustrated. We are delivering big boxes of food and we delivered Easter eggs too, which put smiles on people’s faces. It’s extremely satisfying and the public have been immensely generous. The project has taken off hugely. When I first got involved it was just a few hours a day, but now my phone is probably going for 10-12 hours a day!”
How much organisation is going into your role?
“You wouldn’t believe it. We’ve got spreadsheets highlighting what needs doing for every day of the week, including information for who is receiving what every day. We try to keep extra notes. For example, we don’t want a box being delivered containing only 50 per cent of what they will eat. We try to accommodate people’s individual needs. We have a What’s App group for the drivers, so that if we get an urgent call for a box of items we can get items delivered at short notice. I also have a rota for drivers who are doing different things every day. We are not just delivering food, we are also delivering prescriptions for people that need them. It’s just incredible and because of the growing numbers of volunteers I’m always adding new names to the group.
“Even making 20 phone calls a day can be time consuming. You pick up the phone to them and what you think will be a two-minute call takes a lot longer because some of them haven’t spoken to anyone for a week. You are taking on the role of a counsellor, trying to tell them to stay positive and that it will all be over soon. You can get people crying on the phone and telling us that we are providing a lifeline for them. They say ‘I don’t know what I would have done without you’. The amount of positive cards and messages sent my way has been amazing.”
It’s not just Wimbledon supporters getting involved. What has it meant to you to see fans of other clubs playing their part in the project?
“Whatever team people support, they can see the benefit of getting involved. I think it’s brilliant that a small club like Wimbledon has taken this project to its heart. We don’t care who people support and 50 per cent of the volunteers are not even Wimbledon fans. Some of them are saying that they didn’t even know much about AFC Wimbledon, they are just coming up to us outside food collection points and volunteering to help out. It’s raising awareness about our club in a very positive light, I think that’s such a bonus for us. The main aim of what we are doing is to help vulnerable people in the community, but raising the club’s profile at a time when we are on the verge of going back to Plough Lane is a bonus. People are seeing the club colours all over the place and we are trying to get a lot of the volunteers to wear the kit. People who don’t support a team are wearing blue and yellow outside supermarkets! I think it’s very important that it’s involving people of all ages.”
How has this helped your own mental health and to cope at this difficult time?
“I’m a retired police officer and I started my own business, which involves looking after people in their homes privately. I’m still doing that as well. For me, it’s just been really good to have a focus when I get up and to know that I’m doing something good for the community. It’s similar to what I said about my son, it gives you that focus. It’s all-encompassing, but those of us who have been doing it since the start are learning all the time. As it’s growing at such a scale, you have to learn very quickly.”
What’s your message to those who are thinking of getting involved?
“I would recommend it to anyone. It provides a real feel-good factor in that you are helping other people. They genuinely are very grateful to us for helping them to come through a difficult time in their lives. You feel that you are doing something valuable with your time.
“The people we are helping are really appreciative of what we are doing to help them and it’s giving young people a purpose at this difficult time. So many kids sit in front of the Xbox every day, not doing much, especially the ones whose exams are not going to happen. Some children will not be going back until September, so six months is a hell of a long time to be at home. Max is volunteering three or four times a week so I am really proud of him. It has taken him outside of his comfort zone as he’s standing outside food collection points asking for things and drumming up support. It’s teaching them really good values and showing them that there are people worse off that they can help.
How long have you been a Wimbledon supporter?
“I have been a Wimbledon supporter from a very young age, from about the age of two or three. My team from a young age was Wimbledon and I even won competitions to meet the players. I was a real lover of Wimbledon, but when they moved to Selhurst Park my Dad wouldn’t let me go over there, but when the new club was formed I switched back.”
Would you say that the work of the Dons Local Action Group is one of the best achievements by AFC Wimbledon since it reformed?
“As it’s combining football and our work in the community in such a positive light and involving so many volunteers, I would say that it’s one of the best things that Wimbledon has done since the club reformed. In a different sense, it was a great achievement to attract so many supporters to Wembley for the play-off final, but this has had such a meaningful impact on the community. Therefore, it’s probably the best thing that AFC Wimbledon has been involved with.”
As we mentioned on our social media channels earlier, the brilliant work of our Dons Local Action Group was featured on ITV London News in their tea-time programme today, further recognising the dedicated work of all the volunteers. Thanks to everyone involved from all at AFC Wimbledon.
Look out soon for another one of our interviews with a volunteer from the Dons Local Action Group. To get involved, contact the Dons Local Action Group on 020 3301 4511 (9am-6pm), or you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .