The team behind the social isolation group set up by South West Durham Division of SSAFA Durham Branch, the Armed Forces charity and the Bishop Auckland Veterans’ Group was recognised at the recent Northern Echo County Durham Together Awards finals as it was named Community/Volunteer Group of the Year.
The awards, which took place at the Ramside Hall Hotel, Carrville, spotlight the incredible work carried out by those in the voluntary sector in County Durham, and in what are – after pandemics and lockdowns, and now a cost-of-living crisis – are challenging circumstances for many people.
Mike Donne, Branch President, and his wife Ruth Wright, South West Durham Division Treasurer who formed the social isolation group that meets in Bishop Auckland, were accompanied by some of the SSAFA volunteer helpers, group helpers and beneficiaries of the group. It was also an ideal opportunity to showcase SSAFA to many other members of the community and Durham County Council.
“It never entered our thoughts when Ruth and I started the group, which met only twice before the Covid restrictions were put in place, would become success it has, and how it how it has positively impacted on so many people’s lives.”
He also paid tribute to the division’s volunteer helpers, some of whom have volunteered as SSAFA helpers and in two cases – Karen Cammack as Branch Secretary and Malcolm Flinn as the Divisional Secretary – have taken up other roles.
“Without their help the group would not have achieved the success that we now enjoy,” added Mike.
“It’s been quite a journey, which at times has proved to be very challenging, but I’m able to work to my strengths of organising and managing the money while Mike just schmoozes!”
Ruth also took the opportunity to pay tribute to the volunteer helpers who have taken on the work, much of it unseen.
“We’ve seen benefit to members of our group that have come forming new friendships, giving support in their time of need that some have experienced with the loss of a loved one, and relieving the isolation and loneliness of those who live alone.
“Importantly, we don’t forget those who are too ill or of an age where they can’t get out as well as those who do not have the confidence to mix with others due to Covid.”
To underline this, she added that each fortnight, the team still delivers a bacon buttie or a goodie bag – along with the al-important doorstep chat – to those too frail or vulnerable to go out.
Mike and Ruth concluded by thanking all those who nominated the group for their support.
SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity was formed in 1885 and is the UK’s oldest tri-service charity. For information on how to access services, volunteer, or fundraise, visit ssafa.org.uk/durham.