Originally published in BSA Society Matters magazine
Stuart Miller, Customer Director, Newcastle Building Society
Already, 2020 has been a year like no other. Faced with huge social and economic uncertainty, one thing for me that has stood out that is how people have come together in ways like never before.
Our region has become even more passionate about supporting local communities and this has led to some new and innovative ways to help one another.
For us, it was the ideal time to try something new around volunteering, finding a safe way to enable our colleagues to connect with our communities and help those in most need of support. In partnership with the National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA) based in Newcastle, and a 'tech for good' company called onHand, we have brought an innovation in volunteering to Newcastle, making it the first city outside London to experience the onHand volunteering app.
onHand’s app links volunteers with those who need help with simple tasks such as shopping, prescription pick-ups or even companionship calls. Referrers can ask for help for themselves or for someone they know. Volunteers can pick up tasks via the app from their mobile.
NICA are trialling the app with their VOICE Panel, a unique research network who will be among the first to benefit from the help of the Society’s team of colleague volunteers.
Samantha Martlew, our West Denton Branch Manager, completed one of the first volunteering tasks delivered through the app when she helped an older person, Julie, with some gardening.
"I was delighted to be one of the first Society Volunteers to take part in the onHand pilot! Despite the wet weather, I brought along my own tools and started clearing sections of the overgrown garden for one of the onHand users, Julie, an older, less mobile lady in Newcastle whose garden had got the better of her. I was in such a frenzy to do as much as I could in the hour and a half I was there. But, it was all worth it to see the smile on Julie’s face! It was great to have a little chat and if she needs more help in the future I’ll definitely go back to help again.”
With many people feeling increasingly isolated, I’m sure that a sense of companionship and a new connection with someone is just as important as the help received.
With colleagues across the North East, North Yorkshire and Cumbria, we’re in a great position to offer help with a range of tasks over a wide geography, or provide something as simple as a companionship phone call.
Iain MacLeod works at our Head Office but like many others, is currently working from home. He was one of the first of our colleagues to sign up to the onHand app and has thrown himself into the role of a companionship volunteer.
“Anyone who knows me knows that chatting is my area of expertise so I was really happy to sign up to make companionship calls!
“A simple conversation can have a huge impact. One of the people I spoke to said he had tears in his eyes when we were chatting because it meant so much to him, and to be honest it meant just as much to me.”
I’m so proud of our colleagues for helping to provide a sense of connection that people in our region may be missing due to the pandemic and beyond.
The onHand app has great potential to revolutionise the way we volunteer and we’ll continue to share progress of the pilot on our social media pages, so keep your eyes peeled. After all as one of the app users already said to us: “This is the future of volunteering”.