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A student volunteer helping at a previous CommUniTea event (Christmas 2019).

(Please note that this image is from a previous CommUniTea event, which took place at Christmas)

Volunteers at the University were due to host a ‘CommUniTea’ event for older people in mid-March, but the national initiative, organised by charity Re-engage, had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the cancellation, those students who had been due to volunteer sent hand-written letters and made goody bags for the older people who were supposed to attend, which the volunteer drivers at Re-engage then kindly delivered.

Sophie Fearnall from Re-engage emailed the University team to say: Thank you to you all for all the hard work you put in to organising the Tea Party on Sunday, which unfortunately had to be cancelled due to protecting our elderly guests as much as possible from COVID-19. We delivered all your goody bags and lovely hand- written cards. Our ladies were overwhelmed with your kindness. They all wish to thank you and were saddened that the highlight of the calendar year could not go ahead, but they understood.”

Student volunteer Sammie Seagrave, who is studying Adult Nursing, said: “Our events bring vulnerable and isolated individuals together to show them how important and well thought of each person is within their local community. We were grateful to receive donations from Grosvenor Garden Centre in Chester, who provided beautiful primrose plants for each of our guests. We also received cakes from a local bakery firm on the Wirral. We had CommUniTea mugs, as a special momentum of our day together. Sadly, the actual event was cancelled due to the current pandemic, but this did not stop our amazing, small team from jumping into action. No matter what obstacles got in our way, by working together, we still delivered a personal service, to make older members of our community feel important and showed them we care.”

Volunteer Izabela Farkas, who is studying Accounting and Finance, added: “In the goody bags were notes written by my daughter to let our guests know that although we were not able to do the event, that we are thinking of them and that we promise that next year we will return with another event as beautiful as we had originally planned. I look forward to returning to University to organise another event as soon as we can. Thank you very much the University of Chester for giving me the opportunity to be part of this project.”

Andrea Vasarhelyi-Szilagyi, who is studying International Tourism Management and Events Management, said: “This is my second year as project leader of the CommUniTea volunteering project. This year, when the event was cancelled, we had to adapt quickly to find a different way to reach them. Just because we could not physically be together at this time, due to the extraordinary circumstances, we still wanted to make them feel special and to be with them, but in a different way, so we sent gift bags to their homes instead. If somebody asks me why I take part in events like this, instead of just focusing on my studies alone, I have two things to say; because it gives me a platform and empowers me to use, give and create something valuable for others; secondly, when I am older and in the same position as our guests, I myself would love to go to a free party with music, presents, tea and scones!”

Shaunagh Smith, Volunteer Co-ordinator at the University of Chester, said: “The effort that our project leaders and volunteers put in to organising tea parties is always impressive, but even more commendable is the way they adapted to these unusual circumstances and went out of their way to make sure the guests were not forgotten about when the party was cancelled. Their thoughtfulness, understanding and kindness is something which we can all aspire to.”

“We are now taking this further - our team has also established a letter writing service with a number of local care homes - for students and staff, and possibly even their children, to write letters of positivity to older people (with guidance from the team), and to look to spread a little bit of positivity in the next few weeks.”*

The University volunteering team is also continuing to encourage volunteering, but now in a virtual sense, through its virtual volunteering service, which people can do without having to leave their homes: https://volunteering.chester.ac.uk/lookingtovolunteer/virtualvolunteering/ 

Notes for Editors:

*Please note - these letters will be posted to care homes involved in the scheme, with no personal addresses or information shared. Letter writers are asked to adhere to government guidelines regarding social distancing, and post a letter as part of a daily walk. Writers are also advised that they won’t receive a response - this is simply just an act of kindness to let people know they are being thought of. We also suggest addressing letters to “Dear Friend” as we don’t know individuals at each home.

 

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