Coffee chat with Professor Jason Leitch

Published on October 20, 2020

My name is Jamie Wastling, and I am 21 years old and currently studying medicine.
On Monday 19th October I had the opportunity to talk to Professor Jason Leitch and several other young volunteers during a “virtual coffee-break” on the topic of young people volunteering in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A number of young people from a range of backgrounds and charities were present to talk about their experience and what has been learned by young people and charities alike.

I started volunteering with Start Up Stirling in April after coming home from university when lockdown began to kick in. I originally set out looking for volunteering opportunities because I had seen an immediate response amongst young people who had recognised the need for volunteers as charities began to deal the logistical challenges and increased strain caused by the pandemic.

I started by helping out in the warehouse and was quickly taught the process of making up food boxes and sorting donations. Many of the regular volunteers were part of the elderly population and were therefore required to shield which greatly increased the need for younger people to step up and fill the gaps. This was evident as within a couple of weeks I was helping to explain the process to new volunteers. A key point, which was reaffirmed in our discussions with Prof Leitch, was the overwhelming response of the younger generations. A sentiment which stands in contrast to a considerable amount of negative press which has placed blame for the spread of coronavirus at the door of these very same young adults.

As my time volunteering continued we were incredibly lucky to be given use of the Albert Halls, so we could increase our capacity for sorting donations - whilst maintaining social-distancing to keep ourselves and service-users safe. This change highlighted the need for charities to remain adaptable which has been a common theme across the third sector throughout the past 8 months. It was also clear how many people rely on services provided by charities such as Start Up Stirling and this reliance was only increased by the events at the time.

Finally, we also discussed what we gained from volunteering at such an unprecedented time. I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to get out of the house and be given a sense of purpose during a time of national crisis, and a key point raised during our discussions was the overall benefit to our mental wellbeing from having a positive impact in our communities.

Although it may not feel like it right now, the pandemic will end. However, what will still be relevant for years to come is the importance of charities like Start Up Stirling - beyond the foodbank Start Up also provides support and signposting to organisations that help with a range of issues that may affect those experiencing hardship. This work will be no less vital, and will likely be even more so in a post-pandemic world. What we have been able to appreciate is that not only can we give these charities by volunteering and donating, but they can give to us in many ways too.