Volunteering stories: Ona Rowberry 

Ona Rowberry has been volunteering for the RVA supported shopping service, as well her local church. Before the coronavirus outbreak she was a befriender and a volunteer for the Sanctuary Project at The Reading Minster
What made you want to volunteer during the coronavirus outbreak?
I’m a retired police officer, so I’m used to engaging with a complete cross section of people and I love it 🙂 I signed up as a volunteer shopper with RVA at the start of the coronavirus outbreak. I wanted to help in some way and this seemed to be an accessible opportunity that I could fit in with the rest of my life without too much trouble.
Tell us about your volunteering role

Having not been an Asda shopper before, I am now very familiar with where everything is in the shop! This makes shopping much quicker and less stressful. I also like phoning the client to arrange delivery. It’s a short and brief interaction but it makes the person real. And I really don’t care if they’re occasionally a bit difficult. I know it’s not personal and I always make an effort to sound upbeat and like I want to help.

Shopping itself is both tedious and time consuming – to say nothing of the queuing to get in. But I put a lot of effort into getting exactly what the client wants because if you’re confined to your home and can’t go out, little things like having the right brand of ketchup or the right loaf of bread can take on disproportionate importance. I like to bring a smile if I can. And I always engage with people in the queues and generally get 2 or 3 people chatting within the first minute!

I’ve not been a shopping volunteer before, though I’m very active in my local church, where I also coordinate the telephone outreach to the housebound since coronavirus. I’m also part of the live stream team there.

Before coronavirus, I was also a befriender; the coordinator at our church where we hosted Bed for a Night for rough sleepers; and a volunteer at the Sanctuary Project at The Reading Minster, which opens it’s doors on Friday and Saturday nights to anyone who wants to come in – for tea/coffee, a quiet space, someone to talk to etc.

What would you say to somebody thinking about volunteering?
I love volunteering. I find it fulfilling to help other people and understand that one day it may be me that needs support. I also recognise how hard it must be to have to rely on voluntary help. But, because of this, I also think it’s important that volunteers appreciate how important it is to be reliable, to do what they have agreed to do and to do it with a smile (even on a bad day!). It’s about having a social conscience and responding with a personal commitment, and for me it’s also strongly related to my Christian faith. But if you do it for kudos then the shine will soon wear pretty thin!