Nursing studies

COVID-19: how a neighbourhood volunteer scheme is teaching me about leadership

One nursing student is coordinating a network of support for vulnerable community members

Katie Dixon says neighbours ‘are interacting in ways they never did before’ Picture: iStock

Nursing student Katie Dixon was keen to do something to help her community cope during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She leafleted her road in King’s Heath, Birmingham, offering to help residents, and posted on her local online forum to publicise what she had done. Many of the forum’s members responded, applauding her idea and keen to join in.

‘The interest was there, so I thought let’s make something of this,’ says Ms Dixon, a mature student in her final year of an adult nursing degree at Birmingham City University.

Team effort brings practical help to neighbours in need

So far, more than 1,000 people have volunteered for the initiative, encompassing different backgrounds and a wide diversity of skills. Between them, they have been able to leaflet two-thirds of the local area.

Even some who are self-isolating have volunteered to help, taking on admin and coordination roles that can be done from home. Requests for help include shopping, phone support and signposting to other organisations that can assist with specific issues, such as picking up prescriptions.

‘I’m hoping that what we are doing is laying the foundations for caring relationships in the community that will continue once all this is over’

Katie Dixon, nursing student and coordinator of a neighbourhood volunteers initiative 

‘It’s a huge team effort – I’m so pleased we’re doing something,’ says Ms Dixon, who won her university’s health, education and life sciences student nurse of the year award in 2019. ‘What’s become clear is that individuals feel less alone, while relatives who live further away are reassured about their loved ones.’

Recognising the value of leadership

Ms Dixon was inspired to pursue a career in nursing after meeting a nurse who became a friend. ‘It sounds like a cliché, but I always wanted to look after and care for people,’ she says.

Nursing student
Katie Dixon

Looking ahead, her ambition is to work in the community when she qualifies in six months’ time. ‘Community has always been very important to me,’ she says. ‘Where I live has a real community spirit. If there was ever any doubt about my future plans, this has completely solidified what I want to do.’

While it has been challenging to juggle the commitments of studying, family life and coordinating the group, the benefits far outweigh any negatives, she believes. ‘I don’t think I’d ever realised before what a leader was and what leadership really meant.

‘Obviously I’ve done some delegation on my placements, but now I’m working with a large team of people and asking what they can do. I’ve also learned a lot about other issues, such as safeguarding, and working with other organisations and individuals, including local councillors.’  

Continuing to motivate the team is important, and she tries to make sure everyone who has volunteered gets positive feedback. ‘They can see they’re helping, and it’s keeping their motivation up,’ she says. ‘It’s important that they know what they are doing is a good thing.’

The volunteer scheme: feedback from the community

  • ‘Thank you for the note you kindly posted through our door today; it is good to know we have such caring people in our area,’ one couple said. ‘Thankfully our family are not too far away and would, if needed, be able to help us. But we will keep your note, because in these strange times, anyone is likely to succumb to the virus’
  • Another resident said: ‘We only moved here in November and it is so nice to find such caring people in our new neighbourhood. If we need your help we shall certainly be in touch’
  • Another self-isolating couple responded: ‘It is such a comfort to know you are there, should you be needed’
  • One of the volunteers said: ‘I just want to say this is really working. I was concerned people may not actually ask for help but I leafleted around 200 houses and we have already had people call to ask us to bring supplies and to ask questions. I spoke to a lady this morning and I was almost in tears. There are so many vulnerable people out there with different stories. They could be living a few doors away from you, but without taking steps to offer support you might never know. I suspect a lot of people will simply be grateful for a chat to help relieve anxiety, if nothing else’  

A community pulling together

Ms Dixon is unable to continue with planned placements at the moment, but this has given her another focus. ‘I’m missing nursing and university life,’ she says, ‘but you can see that people are starting to get to know their neighbours. Before this happened, they didn’t know who lived on their street but now they’re interacting in ways they never did. It’s lovely to see.’

For Ms Dixon, it’s also been an eye-opening experience. ‘I didn’t realise how many people in our community were alone and vulnerable,’ she says. ‘I’m hoping that what we are doing is laying the foundations for caring relationships in the community that will continue once all this is over.

‘I’d be surprised if this didn’t happen now that we’ve established a platform. I’m so proud – it’s been wonderful.’

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Lynne Pearce is a health journalist