Celebrating the helpers who are 'backbone' of Wigan charity during Volunteers' Week

Volunteers are the lifeblood of many charities and organisations in Wigan, dedicating their time to helping others.

To mark Volunteers’ Week, which runs from June 1 to 7, The Brick opened its doors to highlight the efforts made by its hard-working team of volunteers.

The charity supports people across Wigan facing homelessness and poverty and has helpers for a wide range of tasks, from running its food bank and serving meals in a night shelter to selling items in shops and providing pastoral support.

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Volunteers Andrew Turton, Kevin Barr, Theresa Winnard, Tony O'Dwyer, Bill Houghton and Jean Groves at The Brick WorksVolunteers Andrew Turton, Kevin Barr, Theresa Winnard, Tony O'Dwyer, Bill Houghton and Jean Groves at The Brick Works
Volunteers Andrew Turton, Kevin Barr, Theresa Winnard, Tony O'Dwyer, Bill Houghton and Jean Groves at The Brick Works
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Jean Groves volunteers twice a week at the food bank, making up food parcels, handing them to the people who need them, sorting deliveries and stocking shelves.

She said: “I started in the first lockdown in April 2020. There was a national call for volunteers at the time and I thought about it and I decided to look for something local.

"I have always been interested in supporting homeless people because I find it’s quite worrying that any of us could be made homeless very easily these days, with private landlords and being out of work.”

Jean, 71, from Whelley, enjoys volunteering, particularly the job satisfaction she gets and socialising with the other helpers.

Volunteer co-ordinator Emma ShawVolunteer co-ordinator Emma Shaw
Volunteer co-ordinator Emma Shaw
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She said: “You feel like you are giving something back to society. You feel as if you are making a difference and also it makes you much more aware of homeless people. They are people and every person has a different story and different needs. It’s recognising them as individuals. From a socialising point of view I really enjoy it too.

"I would recommend it to anyone. You can choose how much time you have to give.”

Andy Hurst has been volunteering for four years and spends a few hours on Fridays helping in the kitchen at A Bed Every Night, which provides somewhere for people to stay.

He said: “I serve the food up, clean up, wash up and chat and listen to the guests if they want to talk.”

Volunteers Theresa Winnard and Andrew TurtonVolunteers Theresa Winnard and Andrew Turton
Volunteers Theresa Winnard and Andrew Turton
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The 57-year-old from Pemberton, who enjoys being able to help, hopes other people will consider becoming volunteers.

He said: "I would say get involved. What it gives you is something you can’t buy and that’s a feeling of compassion for other people. That’s a strength in itself.”

Andrew Turton, 61, has helped in several areas after leaving his job as a contact lens optician.

He said: “I originally started during the lockdown, after they put a plea out through Church Wigan for delivery drivers to deliver food parcels. Then through that I started volunteering in the food bank. I did quite a few months there.

Volunteer Bill Houghton at The Brick WorksVolunteer Bill Houghton at The Brick Works
Volunteer Bill Houghton at The Brick Works
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"At the same time I was training as a vicar and chatting with the main chaplain at The Brick, she encouraged me to become a volunteer chaplain. I am mainly based at The Brick Works, on Hodson Street. It’s a mixture of talking and counselling the people we support, with the staff and the volunteers.

"There is a cafe area and I normally volunteer there on Thursday lunchtimes, when I help out serving and chatting to people.

"I have found volunteering extremely worthwhile. It was the reason I took early retirement from work, so I could do more with The Brick and at a food pantry at St Stephen’s Church. At both places we are seeing big increases in people needing help.”

Andrew, from Aspull, likes seeing the progress made by people getting help, from popping into the food bank for snack packs while staying in temporary accommodation to going on to learn new skills at The Brick Works.

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He said: “It’s not just an instant fix, it’s an ongoing commitment to them that The Brick provides.”

Overseeing all of the helpers is volunteer co-ordinator Emma Shaw, who finds suitable roles for newcomers and supports those already involved.

She said a big “thank you” to everyone who volunteers, expressing her gratitude for their hard work.

She said: “Without the volunteers, The Brick wouldn’t exist. It’s as simple as that. They really are the backbone of the charity.

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"I don’t know how we would be able to manage services without volunteers. They bring everything to it. I don’t just mean by making up food parcels or serving in the shop, it’s about the social aspect as well. It’s engaging with people who need support – they are fantastic at doing that.”

The volunteers do all kinds of tasks at The Brick, across the wide range of services offered by the charity.Emma said: “At the moment we have around 60 active volunteers at The Brick. That’s quite a low number. In the past we have had a lot more than that. Through the pandemic we had over 100 actively volunteering, because we had a lot of people who were furloughed.

"Even after the lockdowns, we still had that bulk of volunteers who were coming to us, but things have changed now with the cost of living crisis.”

Just like the people they support, the volunteers are being affected by the rising cost of living, with people finding they have to work more hours or care for family members and have less time to help at The Brick.

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Emma says the number of people inquiring about volunteering has also been “decimated”.

She is urging Wiganers to consider stepping forward to help make a difference with the charity.

She said: “Come and give it a try. We have a fantastic volunteer team here at The Brick. There are different roles that you can try. Whether you want to work in a shop or the food community or the night shelter, contact me and I will speak to you and we will take it from there.

"Volunteering is not for everybody, I understand that, especially when people are struggling with finances, but if you do have a couple of hours free a week, then please get in touch.”

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Email [email protected] or call 01942 236953 to find out more about volunteering.

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