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My volunteering experience with the Royal Voluntary Service

For the 2020-21 academic year, I was due to travel to Switzerland for a year abroad at HEC Lausanne. Unfortunately, COVID-19 meant I lost the first term entirely and have resorted to doing a few modules in the second term online. Whilst two replacement projects from Durham have given me something extra to do, I still found myself with an enormous amount of spare time.

Time to spare

To fill this void, I decided to look into volunteering with The Royal Voluntary Service. Initially, I was looking at volunteering at a vaccination centre near my home in Birmingham. However, I learned doing so was not possible, as I have asthma. I then came across another opportunity NHS Volunteer Responders and The Royal Voluntary Service were offering, as a Check-In and Chat volunteer. Since it looked interesting, I decided to sign up.

Rewarding and flexible

In this role, I have been ringing lonely, isolated and vulnerable people, in order to offer them a listening ear and to signpost support for various things, such as how to access helpers who can get groceries and other medicines. Doing so has been a massively rewarding experience, not only as a way of chatting to people from across the country, but also as a reminder that a ten-minute phone call can make a massive difference to someone else’s day. Volunteering in this role has also enabled me to use certain practical skills in order to solve potentially serious problems, from helping an elderly lady get access to local helpers who can deliver her much-needed medicines, to discovering someone’s phone line was not accepting calls and ensuring the Royal Voluntary Service could act on this information, so this person did not ‘fall through the cracks.’

Volunteering in this capacity is extremely easy and does not take up enormous amounts of time either. Volunteers can register online and download the GoodSAM app. Once set up, one can go on and off duty when convenient and receive tasks between 09:00 and 17:00 every day; making it perfect for balancing other activities with volunteering. All the details for the person who needs to be called are provided in the app, making the process extremely simple (but effective). I particularly like the fact I can decide when to volunteer, thereby giving me flexibility, which can help me maximise my time.

Between 9 February 2021 and 9 April 2021, I completed 284 hours of volunteering. Most of this was me being ‘On Duty’ and ready to respond to calls if needed. The Royal Voluntary Service say this is extremely valuable, even if whole days pass without a phone call being made. Many people are extremely grateful for a phone call and some individuals have even remarked to me that it has been the highlight of their day! Hopefully, there are many more remarks like these to come!

Get involved

I am sharing this story in the hope of encouraging other students to sign up, whether that be as a Check-In and Chat volunteer, a Check-in and Chat Plus volunteer (which requires a DBS check) or anything else! For me, losing the opportunity to study in Switzerland and having to resort to online lectures was an enormous disappointment, as I have long wanted to experience life abroad. However, volunteering with The Royal Voluntary Service has been a meaningful use of my time, which has also served as a stark reminder that whilst I am in an unfortunate position, there are many people who are far worse off. Knowing my extra time has been put into helping such people is extremely rewarding and has softened the blow COVID-19 inflicted on both terms of my year abroad. I really hope other people consider signing up! You will not regret it!

Find out more

If you would like to sign up to volunteer as a Check In and Chat volunteer with the NHS like Zack please visit their website.

If you would like to find out more about volunteering opportunities at Durham University please visit Durham University Student Volunteering and Outreach.

Zack is a member of Trevelyan College visit their new website to find out more about what ‘Trevs’ has to offer.

Zack Bhalla

I’m Zack, a Business & Management student at Trevs, currently on a year abroad at HEC Lausanne. I enjoy developing business ideas, making podcasts, watching F1 and scuba diving! I also volunteer for the Royal Voluntary Service and have written about my story as a premature baby for The Winnicott Foundation.
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