Effat Chowdhury at Riana’s Youth Club
My children are nine and eleven years old and as many parents may tell you, finding activities for them can be tough. Youth Clubs are becoming a thing of the past, but I was lucky enough to discover that a charity local to me – Riana Development Network – ran one, and it was great!
Riana were flexible about the fact I was a working parent, because sometimes you do feel slightly discriminated against. I was impressed and began volunteering for them. Being involved with a community centric organisation got me thinking and I realised there was a greater need for parents to be collectively involved in a group. So, I hatched the idea of a simple community coffee morning; Thrive and Connect.
I was approached by one of the staff members at Riana. We were all obviously aware that the cost of living was a huge issue and Riana were also offering a warm hub, along with many other places in the borough. So many people could not actually afford to have the heating on in their house. They were aware that I knew a lot of parents in this area, so we started last September. It was a trial at first, but it went well, and surpassed expectations so we just extended the warm space time to encompass the new Connect and Thrive sessions.
People could be signposted to voluntary services and just have a chat and meet other people with similar lives. Riana are an award-winning organisation, they know what they’re doing with community projects, so word of mouth worked in terms of promotion. They have an established community.
I think, because of COVID we all became quite comfortable within our own zone, even though there were a lot of people that needed to come out and talk, seek help. I felt restless within myself during that time – we had so much time to think! – and this project was born of that time – so was my own wellbeing business.
People wonder why I do it because I’ve got a full-time job. But it’s the satisfaction that it gives me. I walk away from that community centre (Dukes Meadow) knowing that a family will have access to a food bank quicker than they previously thought – I know that those children are not going to go hungry.
The way I look at volunteering is that you’re not losing anything. The community that your children are raised in is the community we all live in. There’s nothing to lose at the end of the day.
Connect and Thrive, every Tuesday from 10am – 2pm, Dukes Meadows Community Centre, Alexandra Gardens, W4 2TD.
Feltham volunteer juggles passion projects
I became involved in local volunteering because I’m a long-term Feltham resident, am passionate about improving the town, and another local resident, Angela Parton, who is very active within the local community, asked me to become involved in Friends of Feltham Green.
It was about two-and-a-half years ago just before lockdown, which wasn’t a great time to start a voluntary organisation, but nevertheless we did a lot of online activity during that time and as soon as we could, we started getting out there and organised lots of different volunteering sessions to help improve Feltham Green.
Feltham Green, together with its duck pond and Freddie Mercury memorial, is located right in the centre of the town. We’ve been working closely with the Council on a renovation scheme for the Green and plans to build a small cabin on the Green for our headquarters and as a meeting place for the local community. It’s really a glorified shed – albeit a very beautiful, well designed one!
In terms of my motivation, generally, with volunteering it’s about giving something back and getting involved in your community to try and make where you live and work a better place for everybody. It’s easy to sit back and complain when you see that things aren’t always cared for in the way you would like.
During lockdown, I began looking for another kind of voluntary opportunity and found one through one of the Council’s weekly bulletins, with LEAH (Learn English at Home). That really struck a chord with me because the aim of that organisation, which is a local charity, is to help speakers of other languages, for example asylum seekers, people who have been trafficked and victims of modern slavery. LEAH aims to help them learn to speak English, and my motivation for doing this role was because my father came to this country as a refugee
I see this as a way of paying back a debt, if you like, because despite the terrible loss of his parents and immediate family, he had a great life in the end, and he had tremendous help from people here. And I also wanted to find a way to counter some of the terrible things that are being said and done by the government in relation to refugees and other vulnerable people seeking our help. I also thought it would be enjoyable, which it is, hugely.
I have one student presently, and all the teaching is done online. She’s from Albania. Albanian asylum seekers are getting an especially bad rap in the media right now but she’s a wonderful, hard-working student, and I’m really enjoying working with her. It’s incredibly satisfying. LEAH is a wonderful organisation in terms of the training and support that it gives to its volunteers; the systems and processes they’ve got.
I think if you’re thinking of volunteering, be realistic with the organisation you’re interested in working with about how much time you’ve got to spare and look for something that you feel passionate about.
I’ve had experience of working for organisations that benefit from the support of volunteers and it was obvious to me when I was working how much satisfaction and pleasure they got from volunteering.
For some volunteering there’s a social element too, which I know is important for some people. But I think just do it – I’m quite sure there’ll be something that interests you.
Sheila Thomas -the Middlesex Association for the Blind
Sheila has volunteered for the Middlesex Association for the Blind for nearly ten years, supporting Janet, a Feltham resident. The pair have become good friends as Sheila explains….
Hounslow is very much my borough, but I was originally from Wales. I used to do hairdressing, including West Middlesex Hospital, and we used to go around all the wards. And you learned about patient’s lives and what they were going home to and who was going to be looking after them. It got me thinking about volunteering and caring for people.
I initially took a paid role with a charity called Crossroads . They remain a caring for carers organisation. It was only part time, so I did hairdressing in the morning and Crossroads in the afternoon and evening, and it was basically looking after people. We were like emergency care workers, helping the cared for while the carer recovered from ill health or an enforced break from their work.
I stayed and did palliative care, Macmillan funded us, but eventually that all closed and I retired. Then I looked around and went with Richmond Age UK initially, mainly because they had such a lovely volunteer coordinator, a lady called Susan Hollins, but eventually found a part time work opportunity with The Middlesex Association for the Blind (MAB). I didn’t get it, but they asked me if I’d be interested in volunteering.
The training and support were excellent, you got a genuine insight into what it’s like being visually impaired. And then I was introduced to Janet. She was living in Bedfont Lane at the time, and we matched really well. Eight years later and we’re still together!
She’s such a lovely, bubbly person but due to her visual impairment there is a vulnerability, and our relationship and responsibilities have changed over the years. We’ve become friends and I hope that my presence has increased her independence a little, maybe she’s become more confident with certain day to day things. We definitely have a laugh, that’s for sure!
Basically, I support Janet and help with aspects of her life she may find difficult. I usually go once a week, but there could be other things like a hospital or doctor’s appointment.
We need more volunteers and the more experienced ones like myself could offer support to the actual organisation because I’ve learned so much in eight years. It’s important that we have continuity – for the beneficiaries obviously – but also amongst the volunteers and immediate management.
I find it very satisfying, and interesting. You learn so much about people’s lives and everyone has their own story with the common thread being that life has become more difficult since they’ve become partially sighted or blind.
I don’t think it’s a fantasy to suggest people who are partially sighted, or blind, should not have as full and rewarding lives as anyone else with enough support. It’s not always about more money but additional volunteers are essential to make this a reality.
I would encourage anyone to volunteer. You’d be amazed by how much your time makes a difference. It doesn’t have to be much, just a couple of hours here and there, it’s so worthwhile. You might meet a Janet of your own.
Kishan Kansara, Environmental Champion in Hounslow
Kishan turned his professional experience and personal interest into making a positive contribution to his community, becoming an Environmental Champion during the first national lockdown. He is a firm believer in the power of community and a need for collaborative action in battling climate change, saying ‘both multinational companies and individuals need to pitch in to make our planet better. Through sending out the right positive message, we can vastly improve our planet together.
‘My role specifically is championing two major projects for our borough. The first, which we are really excited about, is our beehive project. By putting beehives around the borough, we are aiming to improve the overall ecology of our area. It is our hope that, on top of improving the long-term environment in Hounslow, this project will help inspire the future generation about the importance of our environment and this will trickle down in the future for years to come.’
‘Secondly, we are promoting a project of having participating residents allow the use of their outside wheelie-bin (in front of homes) to double up as a bin for others walking about. Participating homes will be given a green sticker that they can stick on their wheelie bin.’
‘I’m so glad to be a champion and enjoy being at the forefront of pushing Hounslow’s climate change initiative. ‘
Finally, Kishan encouraged other residents to join him in volunteering their time to tackle the climate crisis stating that there are many ‘great opportunities for all residents to take part in a range of different levels of involvement so that everyone will have the opportunity to do as much for the environment as they can. It’s very exciting to see Hounslow pushing this initiative, as it gives us residents better control to impact on what our borough’s environment will look like in the future.’
Charlotte Bullock, Environmental Champion in Hounslow
Passionate about climate change, Charlotte was encouraged to become further involved in local climate action away from her start-up. She found details of the Environmental Champion initiative and did not hesitate to sign up.
‘My role as a champion chiefly, is to represent the issues to do with my local area and coordinate this with what the council is doing in terms of positive environmental change in my community. I do this by being a WhatsApp admin for my road, where I share pertinent information about what can be done to improve our area’s biodiversity. Such as the recent article I wrote for my local newsletter about the importance of hedgehog holes in the garden; I attended a webinar about this issue and helped to disseminate and circulate the information to my local community.’
Charlotte hopes that such local action will create a ‘ripple effect’, encouraging others in the community to also become more active on the issue. ‘Ultimately, it will hopefully get to the point that it will be socially unacceptable to harm our environment.’
For Charlotte, declaring a climate emergency in Hounslow was a ‘really good’ development from the council. On her own involvement, Charlotte said ‘I enjoy being a champion, even though it is still early days, I like being able to raise issues concerning my local neighbourhood and having the power to alert people to what’s going on.’
Mukesh Malhotra BCAv
Mukesh Malhotra, a member of Hounslow Rotary in London, has been honoured with recognition in the 13th British Citizen Awards.
The British Citizen Award honours individuals for making a positive impact on society and in the community, celebrating a multi-cultural Britain with the 27 medallists coming from all over the country.
For nearly 20 years Mukesh has volunteered within his community and has also played an instrumental role in the global fight to end polio, an infectious disease which can paralyse or even kill young children.
He is currently Director & Chair of ThamesBank Credit Union, an unpaid role, which is a financial cooperative owned solely by members to provide a safe place for savings and access to loans. Mukesh also speaks regularly at colleges and universities on Third Sector topics such as credit unions, food banks, rough sleeping and cyber security.
Through his involvement with Hounslow Rotary, he co-founded ‘Rotary World’s Great Meal to Help End Polio’, with Susanne Rea, which globally has helped protect over 18.5 million children from polio worldwide.
Mukesh is also Trustee of the UK arm a water charity called Roll Out The Barrel, whose primary aim is to transport clean water, that ‘last mile’ from the water pump or borehole using 35 litre water barrels which can be pushed or rolled rather than carried.
The British Citizen Award honours individuals for making a positive impact on society and in the community.”
In addition to the above, he is Trustee of Disability Network Hounslow, supporting people with physical, sensory or mental impairments living and working in Hounslow through providing advice, information and advocacy. Throughout all Mukesh’s voluntary work, he has helped many communities both locally and nationally.
Dame Mary Perkins, Patron of The British Citizen Award, said: “Those who have been nominated have come from all over the UK and are truly ‘unsung heroes’.”
“Your story has inspired me and you thorough deserve our recognition and our thanks for the extraordinary contribution you have made to society.”
“Your selfless efforts make our world a better, safer, healthier and happier place.”