Linda Ireland-Tollaners’ bedroom has become a one-person, volunteer mission control. From it, Linda co-ordinates a team of 36 new volunteers (and counting) who are delivering the Royal Voluntary Service’s (RVS) Moray-wide shop and drop service for vulnerable people and those currently shielding.

Linda hasn’t stopped since lockdown. Processing paperwork, emailing, texting and making calls, Linda knows how vital this help can be; she is also shielding.
The RVS were quick to set up this service, doing so almost immediately after lockdown began. Before COVID-19, Linda managed the RVS onward volunteering at Dr. Gray’s Hospital as well as home from hospital support and community transport. With RVS hospital volunteering suspended, they moved to a shop and drop service, and crucially, expanded their remit to include all at risk people – no matter what their age. “People can also come direct to us and self-refer”, says Linda.

In 6 weeks, they have 46 new clients. At the same time, Linda is keeping in touch with over 80 hospital volunteers and asking some to make the switch to telephone befriending.

“It’s been a huge amount of work, getting the new volunteers through the process…PVG’s, checking references, but it’s been great”, says Linda.
Originally from Belgium, Linda is a former nurse and those caring skills have never left her; it’s in her nature. “I speak to clients to find out what their need is…sometimes when I call, they might say ‘oh I think I should manage’… I’ll be okay’… but I tell them they don’t have to take the risk…it isn’t worth it and making it clear about social distancing… sometimes people can’t take on board the seriousness…”

Linda also knows that for some new clients, they “…just need someone to speak to. A few days ago, I was speaking to a lady (about shop and drop) and she said, ‘I love the sound of your voice, I could listen to you all day.’ So, I’m calling her back today just for a chat…it’s a little time for me, says Linda, and it makes her day…and it makes me happy.” Regarding the people using the service, Linda believes “quite a few could shop for themselves but must shield”, and some people, she says, “…could have used the help much sooner.” It’s important to Linda that people get the information and help they want and need, as well as being mindful of people’s vulnerability. “A gentleman called to volunteer, but he didn’t understand why we needed to do the background checks”, and then she recalls, “I was speaking to a lady in Forres… she paid over the phone, 65 pounds for just a shopping trip”.

The RVS have an invoice system so people do not have to pay up front for their groceries and that makes things easier, especially around the issues of cash handling.

In some parts of Moray right now, Linda has more volunteers than clients, so she is constantly balancing this changing volunteer supply and demand. As a volunteer manager, she knows some new volunteers will go and “…some will stay on after COVID-19…I always say they can still volunteer”. For Linda, however, there’s a bigger, caring picture she wishes for. “I just hope this community spirit will keep going…the goodwill will continue, and we keep looking out for our neighbours.”