Avanti West Coast Volunteers 2

Making a difference in lockdown

Avanti West Coast staff reflect helping during the coronavirus pandemic, one year since the first lockdown.

24 March 2021

When the UK went into its first lockdown one year ago this week, Avanti West Coast staff across the West Coast Main Line chose to do their bit to help others, while keeping vital services running for key workers and those making essential journeys.

From taking up their voluntary roles as Police Specials full-time, to joining colleagues to help those in need, or sewing items for NHS workers, and providing company to people experiencing loneliness, their efforts have helped to make a difference in communities across the West Coast Main Line and beyond. 

Here they share their experience of dedicating their time over the last year. 

Alistair Campbell, an Onboard Customer Service Assistant based out of Glasgow Central, has been a special constable for 14 years. One of his roles as a BTP Response Officer sees him covering 500 square miles between Motherwell and Lockerbie in Scotland.

During the first lockdown, I was given special dispensation by Avanti West Coast to give up more of my time to work as a Special Constable after the British Transport Police made a request for more volunteer officers.

When the second lockdown was implemented, I asked again, and it was approved. My role at the BTP is one I love and this particular experience has been an opportunity to develop as a Special Constable. From a personal point of view, it’s made me think about life in general when you have to deal with so many people from all different walks of life.

Alistair (British Transport Police)

It’s a great feeling to help out. I see a lot of people on the frontline and they have been working so hard. While there has been fewer services on the railways, I have been able to volunteer more. Having that extra person there is a great help to the BTP whether it’s on patrols and helping out at the police station.

"It’s made me think about life in general when you have to deal with so many people from all different walks of life."

My colleagues in the railway are proud of me (although sometimes they tease me!) and my counterparts in the BTP are really grateful we’ve stepped in to help at this time. It’s also been great of Avanti West Coast to give me the approval to do this.

I’ve dealt with a lot of cases and in particular, we’ve dealt with a lot of mental health issues which is a very important subject and come to the fore during this time. It’s been challenging but this is what I have signed up for I would have no hesitation in doing it again, I am proud that I can look back and say I did this.       

Josh Jensen, who is an Onboard Customer Service Assistant, serves as part of a BTP daily response team in Liverpool where he is based. During the day his team covers between Chester and Southport and at midnight, they also cover between North Wales and Carlisle.

Since March 2020, I was able to commit more hours as a Special Constable after gaining approval from Avanti West Coast and have assisted colleagues at the British Transport Police in Liverpool with general patrol duties, COVID enforcement and other various roles where the extra officer is required on more-or-less a full time basis.

Josh (British Transport Police 1)
 I have supported with train patrols focusing on local Anti-Social Behaviour hotspots and also assisted with some investigations into criminal damage across Merseyside.

"This whole experience in the past year has been really rewarding."

As a Special our duties can vary day-to-day and you can end up anywhere on the rail network from time to time.

As a Special and an onboard Customer Service Assistant you also develop your confidence, as well as the skills in each role which become useful in different scenarios. This could be a ticketing issue to something more challenging like a situation involving anti-social behaviour or maybe a mental health.

As with all these circumstances, it is important to keep the passengers safe, keep the railways moving as well as be a communication link between the force and the train company to tackle any local issues or developing intelligence.

From my perspective, this whole experience in the past year has been really rewarding and a great thing to be able to do.

Debbie Cooper, a Customer Service Assistant at Wigan North Western, has been dedicating her time to give companionship to people at risk of loneliness throughout the pandemic, while providing a service to help key workers get to where they need to.    

With the NHS doing everything they could to help everyone affected by COVID-19 and people I knew who were dedicating their time to support the NHS in other ways, I wanted to do my bit to support their efforts. The NHS Volunteer Responder opportunities appealed to me and when Avanti West Coast announced they would support those volunteering, I immediately applied.

The NHS Check In and Chat service, which offers support over the phone to people at risk of loneliness while they stay at home during the pandemic, is an ideal way to help as I like to chat.

Debbie Cooper

The team at Wigan North Western have been supportive of my efforts – when I received some calls during my shifts on the platform, they ensured I could give my time to those in need.

Volunteering for the NHS Check In and Chat Service has been a fulfilling experience. I have been able to help various people far and wide by giving them some companionship for a few minutes, to a few hours or referring them to resources and services available through the NHS.

I have had conversations with young people struggling with lockdown and elderly people who live on their own and whose families aren’t nearby.

So many people have interesting stories to tell and I found myself sharing common interests with many of the individuals I have been talking to. A widower reminisced about the times he had shared with his wife – we were both laughing and joking together, and it reminded us of the good times before the pandemic.

"I felt our time on the phone gave them a distraction from everything that is going on."

I have never done anything like this before. It is nice everyone I have spoken to has had the confidence to talk to me and share their stories and feelings. I felt our time on the phone gave them a distraction from everything that is going on. They put a smile on my face, and I hope I managed to do the same for them – even if it was just for a few hours.

Diane Forrester, an Onboard Customer Service Assistant based at Carlisle, joined her family and friends to sew items for local NHS workers.  

After hearing stories about the shortage of scrubs, I joined my family and friends in supporting North and West Cumbria Scrub Hub – a voluntary community group making scrubs and accessories for NHS staff and frontline workers in Cumbria.

Diane Forrester (Avanti West Coast) 2

Dedicating our time to making accessories for local hospital workers and fulfilling orders received by the Scrub Hub was something I wanted to do to play my part in the UK’s response to COVID-19.

"It was unlike anything I have ever done before and I was proud to be a part of it."

We made and delivered 550 scrub bags, 140 ear protectors and 210 headbands locally, and posted additional items to hospital workers further afield. We also volunteered our time to support appeals from a children’s hospital ward and food banks.

I did not need to give any thought to helping during the pandemic and it was an amazing joint effort to support NHS workers. It was unlike anything I have ever done before and I was proud to be a part of it. I loved being able to make a small difference and it is great to help other areas of the local community who needed support.

I feel proud for playing my part to keep trains running during this time. The railway has been vital for key workers, people who need to travel for bereavements, help loved ones who are vulnerable, and for volunteers to get where they need to be.

Kevin Dodd, a Customer Service Assistant at Stockport, wanted to do his bit to help others and make a difference in the local community, alongside his efforts to keep vital services running.

At Stockport station we have been keen to help those less fortunate get through these unprecedented times. So, we have supported causes that are helping people who have been affected by the coronavirus crisis.

In one case we undertook a charity fundraiser – walking and cycling nearly 150 miles – to help Man about a Dog who are a group in Stockport that supports people who have survived suicide attempts.

"We are passionate about supporting causes close to home, as we can see the difference it makes."

Over the last year we have seen new food banks set up locally – there are now 10 within approximately four miles of the station. We regularly bring in items of food that can be donated to each of them. 

Kevin Dodd (right) with members of The Wellspring and donations

For 15 years I have volunteered for The Wellspring – a charity in Stockport for people who are homeless or about to become homeless. Having previously served in the Army, The Wellspring is a cause close to my heart as it supports ex-military personnel who have fallen on hard times.

We delivered 70 care packages containing chocolate, drinks, crisps and snacks, that The Wellspring could hand out to those in need on Christmas Day. Ahead of the extreme cold weather we bought thermals and hats that would keep the charity’s patrons warm.

We are passionate about supporting causes close to home, as we can see the difference it makes. I’m already working with my colleagues to plan our next fundraising challenge – we like to do at least one thing a year to help others. Now is more important than ever to be doing what we can.