The University's volunteering efforts in assisting COVID-19 fight


From food parcels to front line workers, these are just some of the ways in which individuals from the University of York are making a difference

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Image by The University of York

By Matthew King

Thousands of people across the UK have already volunteered in numerous ways to help the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effect it is having on the lives of thousands. The University of York, and its students, are no exception to this.

In a move to assist the hard-working medical staff at York Hospital, the University has set up a volunteering scheme to deliver 2000 free packed lunches every day to staff at the hospital, as the catering staff there were diverted to patient services. This left a significant gap in catering for the staff, which these volunteers are helping to fill.

The team of ten volunteers consists of University staff, students and YUSU volunteers. This team of volunteers works each day to deliver the food packages, which reportedly contain “a sandwich, piece of fruit, water, flapjack and bag of crisps.” The first of these packages were delivered on 15 April.

Jon Greenwood, the Director of Commercial Services at the University, said that this scheme “is a fantastic example of people coming together to help a great cause.” He continued by stating that “the NHS is doing a tremendous job in extremely challenging times and we can all play our part, however small.” He added that the volunteering operation would continue for the next 10 weeks.

The University have also teamed up with researchers at both Birmingham and Exeter universities, as well as the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust and with NHS Lothian’s Heart Manual Department to offer NHS staff free training to support heart failure patients who are affected by COVID-19. The training will allow NHS staff access to training to deliver home-based cardiac rehabilitation programmes for patients whose access to services has been restricted due to the pandemic. This exercise-based rehabilitation scheme has the potential to support the nearly 200,000 people in the UK who are diagnosed with heart failure each year.

The courses will take place over the next few weeks, and will train approximately 20 cardiac rehabilitation teams. It is also reported that more sessions will take place later in the year, with the aim of having 30 sites trained by the end of September.

Not only is the University committed to assisting crucial frontline workers and healthcare, but they have also introduced a number of online training courses in a bid to help regional charities and businesses to “recover, innovate and grow.” These online courses are there to support individuals and businesses through this challenging time. On this, the University stated that “now, more than ever, it is important for us to look after ourselves, our employees and to retain a happy and resilient workforce. We have developed a suite of free short online learning sessions to help you through the challenging time we currently face.”

These courses are mostly taking place live via Zoom, with the first session, “Time Management”, taking place on 14 May at 1pm. The sessions are free and are open to anyone who feels as though they need assistance in the areas they are helping with.

The President of North Yorkshire’s Chamber of Commerce, Andrew Digwood, commented on the series of online courses the University has set up, citing that:

"The York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce is delighted to see the University of York have developed a portfolio of online training courses that directly support regional businesses and their employees through these challenging times and beyond. We know our members have benefited from their training in the past and it's great they can continue to access such high-quality content remotely.” A link to the information on these courses can be found here for those who are interested:

Finally, across the UK student medics and nurses have volunteered to assist the frontline fight against the virus. Again, York’s students are no exception to this nation-wide movement, with over 100 final year student nurses from York joining the fight against the pandemic by voluntarily extending their NHS placements. Additionally, a further 100 Hull York Medical students have graduated early and are able to take on intern posts so to support frontline NHS staff. One such volunteer is Grace Greenwood, who spoke with the University and told them that:

“I just wanted to do my bit, it seemed a totally natural thing to me. It is a bit daunting but I have done the training and I just want to get stuck in.” She also stated that she believes it  “will be an amazing experience and I will learn so much and gain so much knowledge. I am excited and scared in equal measure.” Of course, Grace is just one of the thousands of student volunteers across the UK who are joining this fight, and are bravely risking their lives in a bid to support the NHS against the virus.

In a Facebook post last week, YUSU Community and Wellbeing Officer, Steph Hayle, praised the students who are working on the frontlines in the NHS, commenting that: “so often we’re told by the media or by the government, or even by local residents, that #StudentsDoNothing. Covid-19 has shown what absolute nonsense that really is. Thank you to all our students who are Key Workers during this crisis, we appreciate you so much.”

It is safe to say that many people across the UK share Hayle’s view and that it is becoming more apparent just how instrumental students are within society and within the institutions which our society depends upon. It is refreshing to see that within these times of hardship, students and staff within our University are stepping up and helping to mitigate some of the issues we are facing as a result of this pandemic.