Volunteers' Week 2021 - Day 5
Posted by Victoria Leedham
To celebrate #VolunteersWeek 2021 we asked a few volunteers to reflect on the past year and let us know what it's been like to volunteer during a pandemic.
Today's #VolunteerVoice is Penny Hack who volunteers in our restaurant The Grange, and as an on-site dog walker...
How important has your volunteering been to you in the last year?
"I have had two stints of volunteering with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, firstly from 2009 to 2012 and then I joined again in 2017 until now. Volunteering has been very important to me and has helped me gain confidence in a safe and friendly environment, with the dogs being central to this. I love animals and have often turned to them for comfort and support when things are tough and this year has been no different.
How has your volunteering changed since the first lockdown?
Like everyone, overnight in March 2020 my life and routine changed completely. Lockdown meant that The Grange site where I usually volunteer closed, and my roles as a front of house volunteer and on-site dog walker were both furloughed.
Thankfully I am friends with some other volunteers who were looking after a dog called Storm on a training-from-home basis and I was able to keep taking her out for weekly walks (with an adjusted, Covid-safe handover procedure) which were the highlight of my week.
Storm was my 'lockdown buddy' and we made the most of our quality time together walking in the woods. Once she realised that I was no longer staying or going into her home on our return, she adapted her behaviour to ensure lots of outdoor cuddles!
I also found connectivity by following the Hearing Dogs family on social media through both the VolTeamHDogs Facebook group and Yammer. It was a nice way to get to know more members of staff, volunteers, and partnerships, follow their journeys, as well as enjoying all the different and inventive games people came up with to entertain their dogs.
Storm passed her Hearing Dog Assessment in March but, due to lockdown, wasn't placed with her deaf partner until the end of June. It was difficult to see her go as I had grown so close to her. Her leaving definitely left a void.
As lockdown eased, and after Storm had left, I received an invitation to join the 'Little Grange' outdoor café team which I was pleased to do as it gave me an opportunity to get out and about, meet people and dogs (both familiar and new) as well as actively help the charity once again. Myself and another volunteer, Joe, teamed up and together we saw Little Grange through the summer season. It was hard work, and a lot of walking, but good fun and I enjoyed it!
Bertie arrived at my friends' home in August and I started to help look after him, just like his predecessors Morgan and Storm, although the support I was able to give was dependent on the Government restrictions which changed rapidly during his training. I'd actually met Bertie in passing previously, but through more time together we formed a close and loving bond, and I also continued to learn and expand my canine knowledge and care.
If any parts of your volunteering have been on hold, have you missed it or has the time gained been valuable?
I have missed my on-site dog walking role and not being with the dogs, following their journeys or being able to say goodbye to them before they leave.
In fact, I have missed being on site in general - seeing familiar faces, getting to know new people and the social side as well, like lunchtimes together after a dog waking shift and the big fundraising events.
What have you learnt from the changes?
All-in-all this last year has had many highs and lows, however, through them - and thanks to support and help from others - I have learnt that I am more flexible and adaptable than I thought."
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