Champa's voice - volunteering during COVID
Dipak Dristi was set up to help women who speak Gujarati to come together in order to make them feel less isolated within their community.
Champa, from Tameside, talks about the challenges to her group during the pandemic, sadly losing members and how charitable organisations helped her reach people aged 55 and over during the lockdowns.
Our group is called Dipak Dristi, which means Light of Vision. We are based in Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside, supporting people from the age of 55, and we have been running for about three years with a team of dedicated volunteers. We do a range of activities, such as yoga and arts and crafts, and also provide a healthy light lunch.
I lost my husband in 2009 and I was feeling isolated and lonely. I realised that other older women in our community were in a similar situation after losing a loved one. Their language is Gujarati, and sometimes they don’t speak English well, which makes them feel even more isolated. Within the community, there wasn’t anything locally for us women and I wanted to create a better environment for people experiencing these emotions, therefore I channelled my energy into creating this group.
I started by visiting people and encouraging them to come out with me. I’d offer to take them to the temple or to the doctor. Sometimes I would just call round for a chat to see if they were OK or if there was something they needed. I started running one of the yoga groups at a community centre and it took off from there. Word spread and now we have 25 to 30 members.
We created a WhatsApp group for some of our volunteers and members for those who have a mobile, many of whom are also in their 60s and have felt the impact of COVID.
The group is for people aged over 55, but the age of our member ranges from 60 to 95. Many are vulnerable and they all have underlying health conditions. When you are on your own at home it can be a challenge to make yourself a proper meal and take care of yourself. It helps to have someone looking out for you. Our members are now meeting socially with others who speak Gujarati, and we have a taxi driver who also can speak their language. Some of them have built up their confidence to travel using the Ring & Ride service. They go out more and become more confident to do other things.
COVID-19 was a shock. In the beginning we lost three or four members, and we were all feeling very low. I was trying to keep in touch, calling and sending messages, but often it was to share sad news. Most of our members are not computer literate and don’t use a mobile phone. Our other volunteers and I began visiting house-to-house, keeping a safe distance, and we began to get a sense of what members were going to need. For example, many members don’t have the facilities to shop online or do online banking. They would need to get to the bank to get cash to be able to buy what they need.
Charities such as Action Together and Ambition for Ageing have continued to support us through the pandemic. This has helped us to put together activity packs for members, including colouring books, stationery, embroidery and knitting. Asda has given us healthy food for goody bags for our members once a month. We created a WhatsApp group for some of our volunteers and members for those who have a mobile, many of whom are also in their 60s and have felt the impact of COVID. Over time, some of our members have managed to do some of the online activities, with the help of their children. My own daughter Punam has been a great help, I don’t know how I would have coped without her.
It seems I have a lot on my hands and sometimes I spend more than eight hours a day on the group. But with the support from the volunteers we are managing to meet the needs of our members in the community. We have built up the relationship with members’ families and we are all finding it rewarding. We want to do much more. We would like to have more tablets so our volunteers and members can be trained to stay in touch through Zoom and WhatsApp. I’m looking forward to the day when COVID-19 is gone and we can return to the things that we enjoy.
Ambition for Ageing is part of Ageing Better, a programme set up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Ageing Better aims to develop creative ways for people aged over 50 to be actively involved in their local communities, helping to combat social isolation and loneliness. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier.