Tracey Berry who works for The Personal Travel Agents at Co-operative Travel is juggling her role with helping out as a volunteer in her local community in Chard, Somerset, during the coronavirus crisis. Juliet Dennis reports.

Q. Why did you decide to go down the volunteer route during this crisis?
A. I started volunteering as I felt that during this difficult time I needed to do something to help. I am fit and healthy and I just wanted to do anything I could to be of help in the current situation. Myself and my daughters are all finding the voluntary work very fulfilling and we love talking to the people that just need a friendly voice on the end of the phone.

Q. How did you get involved with your local volunteer group?
A. I spend most of my time on Facebook and I saw that an appeal had started for a new Covid group in our town. It was asking for people to volunteer to do shopping, to walk people’s dogs and to collect medicines. It was also seeking administrative people with their own computers who could work from the town’s guildhall in Chard and who had Excel experience. I immediately offered my services.

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Q. Your daughters are helping out too. How did you get them to join you?
A. I’ve got twins, Charlotte and Niciara, who are 16. They were doing schoolwork early in the lockdown process, but learnt that this would not be going towards their GSCE grades. They will get a grade now based on their mocks and predicted grades.

They were finding it difficult, so I thought ‘let’s find something for them to do too that is not a waste of time’. They are both caring and both are looking for futures within the NHS, so they joined me volunteering as this will be good for them to add to their CVs. One wants to be an osteopath and one wants to do a nursing degree. They are both very willing volunteers and hopefully they will learn some important skills from doing this.

“We match up the people who call with the right volunteers, depending on what help they need, whether it’s to deliver the shopping, collect medicine, walk a dog or even just to have a phone buddy.”

Q. What work are you doing?
A. We come down to the guildhall from Monday to Thursday from 2pm to 5pm and take phone calls from people in need of help. We are working on a shift basis, with between three and five of us in the hall at any one time. It’s been very busy. At the start there was a lot of confusion over the government’s free boxes [of essential supplies] for vulnerable people.

We match up the people who call with the right volunteers, depending on what help they need, whether it’s to deliver the shopping, collect medicine, walk a dog or even just to have a phone buddy. We have an incredible number of volunteers who will take people their shopping or walk people’s dogs. We are also here for people who are self-isolating and want a phone buddy.

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Q. How is your area coping with the crisis?
A. Chard is a small, rural town in Somerset and there are lots of surrounding villages with older people who are finding it very scary and need someone to chat to. One of my daughters, Charlotte, has been doing Zoom calls with local people to talk about how they are feeling and support them. She has now become a ‘phone buddy co-ordinator’, while my other daughter is coming out with me to do shopping deliveries for those in need.

“I am still at the stage where I am building my business up and getting my customer base established so I like to be available 24/7. It’s really important, especially at the current time, that if my customers need me I am there.”

Q. How are you managing to work as a travel agent at the same time as volunteering?
A. I take my laptop with me when I do my voluntary work so I can work in between taking calls. My customers are my priority.  I am in a position to message and email customers from the hall or from home because I tend to work a full day and into the evening. I am still at the stage where I am building my business up and getting my customer base established so I like to be available 24/7.

It’s really important, especially at the current time, that if my customers need me I am there at the end of the phone. I have to say my customers have been amazing; I’ve not yet had any major problems. I know there are a lot of frustrated customers out there, and refunds are an issue, but everyone has to learn to be a bit patient at the moment.

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