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County Durham volunteers share their stories

Jun 10, 2024 | Leisure & Lifestyle

In a week when the contribution of volunteers is under the spotlight nationally, three County Durham residents have spoken about the transformational impact volunteering has had on their lives.

Ann Ferguson, from Ushaw Moor, began volunteering 16 years ago after losing her husband, Eric, to cancer.

Feeling low and lost, Ann was encouraged by a friend to contact Volunteer Durham, Durham County Council’s volunteering service, and described this moment as a turning point in her life. Ann now regularly volunteers at events across County Durham, including Lumiere and Bishop Auckland and Seaham food festivals, as well as supporting activities at Wharton Park and Hardwick Park.

The 69-year-old recently expanded her role to become a volunteer walk leader, guiding people through the county’s picturesque landscapes.

“Working for Volunteer Durham turned my life around,” said Ann. “It gave me something to look forward to as I love meeting and interacting with people. I’m so passionate about supporting the events, and I love being a walk leader. It’s great because you meet different people and although we are only walking for 90 minutes, amazing friendships develop.

“The Volunteer Durham Team is very special, well organised and they look after us volunteers incredibly well. I hope to volunteer with them for a long time yet and, as they promote and develop more activities and events in Durham, I will be there supporting them every step of the way.”

Ann is one of more than 2,000 people volunteering in a wide variety of roles across the county through Volunteer Durham. And this week, as part of the national Volunteer Week celebrations (3- 9 June), Durham County Council is staging celebratory events to thank the volunteers for their contribution to the county. These include special tours of Raby Castle and Ushaw Historic House, Chapels and Gardens, followed by refreshments and speeches.

Naomi Rushman, 40, from Seaham, and Carol Greenwood, 75, from Stanley, are among the volunteers attending.

Naomi moved to the North East from Yorkshire to be closer to her family during the pandemic, but found it difficult to adjust to life in a new area as the restrictions eased.

Naomi has been swimming for the special Olympics charity for more than six years and when an opportunity arose to become a volunteer swimming teacher assistant, she successfully applied. Naomi has gone on to complete a SEQ Level 1 Swimming Assistant (Teaching) qualification, funded by Volunteer Durham, and will soon be embarking on a Level 2 qualification with a view to pursuing a career in the sector.

“The best part of the experience so far has been helping children to learn to swim and passing on my skills to them,” she said. “I get to work with some wonderful swimming teachers who have made me feel very welcome and are happy to pass on their knowledge to me. I am a lot happier now and I look forward to my placement sessions each week.”

Like Naomi, Carol also enjoys keeping fit and believes that being active, especially outdoors, promotes a healthy body and mind. She has been a Volunteer Durham walk leader for five years and leads walks through the countryside in the Beamish area.

A former IT teacher with a background in administration, Carol recently became a volunteer digital buddy at South Moor Library.

She said: “My aim is to help people gain confidence in using their mobile phones and laptops, and for them not to be afraid to ask for help. I have found volunteering through Volunteer Durham incredibly rewarding and have met some fantastic people.”

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “Volunteer Week is an opportunity for us all to reflect on the invaluable contribution volunteers such as Ann, Naomi and Carol make to County Durham, and to thank them for their tremendous efforts.

“We understand the profound impact volunteering has, not only on our communities but on the volunteers themselves – whether that be making new friends or enhancing their CV. Volunteer Durham’s mission is clear; to strengthen communities through diverse volunteering opportunities while promoting equality, inclusivity, and diversity. I would encourage anyone who is interested in volunteering to get in touch and find out more about the opportunities on offer.”

From helping out at festivals and supporting the county’s archives and collections teams, to delivering library books and keeping the county’s parks, nature reserves and green spaces looking their best– there is a vast range of volunteer roles available.

To find out more, visit www.durham.gov.uk/volunteering and www.volunteerculturesport.durham.gov.uk