Lancashire firefighter Mark's role as a Volunteer NHS Responder - could you join the ranks?

A Preston fire​fighter​ who has fought loneliness during lockdown has stepped into the spotlight to encourage more people to become NHS Responders.
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Mark Woodward is sharing his story in a bid to inspire others to volunteer for the new national volunteer service.

Mark, 50, from Ashton, became one of the first people in the country to come forward when the Government appealed for a new army of volunteers to become NHS Responders to help those shielding through the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The NHS Responders' roles can range from picking up the phone and talking to someone who is lonely because they are shielding themselves and must stay at home, to collecting shopping and prescriptions for them.

Mark pictured at work at the Lancashire Fire and Rescue service HQ  photo: Neil CrossMark pictured at work at the Lancashire Fire and Rescue service HQ  photo: Neil Cross
Mark pictured at work at the Lancashire Fire and Rescue service HQ photo: Neil Cross

Mark, ​a ​watch ​manager ​in Response and Emergency Planning at Lan​​c​a​shire's Fire and Rescue servi​c​e HQ at Garstang Road, Fulwood, was already helping out in his professional role through the pandemic.

But he says the NHS Volunteer role has been a bonus - giving him a connection with the community through the long months of lockdown. He said it h​a​d helped him too: "I needed to occupy myself. I found the role rewarding and comforting to speak to people."

He continued: "When (Health and Social Care Secretary) Matthew Hancock asked for a quarter of a million volunteer Responders I was one of the first to apply. It was in its infancy then. I volunteered to do check in chats where basically you ring someone up and have a chat with them."

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He cited the example of his conversations with a recently widowed 90 year old where chat topics covered mutual interests which ranged from climbing mountain climbing to fishing. Mark said: "It was beneficial for both of us. We've had lots of conversations since."

Mark shows how he is alerted to  NHS Responder tasks via an app on his telephone   Photo: Neil CrossMark shows how he is alerted to  NHS Responder tasks via an app on his telephone   Photo: Neil Cross
Mark shows how he is alerted to NHS Responder tasks via an app on his telephone Photo: Neil Cross

In March, April and May he found himself doing a lot of shopping for people.

Volunteers do not have to work set hours, but can log in to a special app when they are available to help. Mark said: "Basically a siren goes off on your phone. It sends you a message about the person you can possibly help. You either accept or reject. You can check in and chat, respond to a need for some shopping or prescriptions. I put it on in the evenings and I do most of my volunteering on Saturdays and Sundays - literally when I get up I book myself on duty. It is really rewarding. "

Now he says some of his friend from the gym he attends are planning to sign up to help: "It's fantastic ... Volunteering in lockdown is doing something positive to help other people - that's amazing.

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Mark has coped with the separations caused by Coronavirus. The divorced father​ ​of one said: "I live all alone and I was really suffering​. D​oing this positive volunteering as well as going into work has kept me going.

"For people living on their own it has a massive impact on mental health. Which is why I sought to do something more positive to help my own mental health. I very much needed to do something extra while not working to get out there and help someone else. The Volunteer Responder scheme is brilliant. I would encourage anyone else I can to volunteer. They are connecting with other people. It has massive benefits for the people you're helping and your own mental health as well."

He also acknowledged similar valuable work is being done by local community groups set up in towns and villages across the country: "We're all singing from the same hymn sheet to help those who are vulnerable."

* There are 7,459 Lancashire NHS Responder volunteers who have already completed 32,661 volunteering tasks. Nationally 360,000 volunteers have completed one million tasks.

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* See: for more details.

** To apply to become an NHS Volunteer Responder, you need to fill out an online application form.This is checked to ensure that you are over 18 , resident in England and have provided the necessary information to verify your identity. DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) clearance will be needed for some roles. NHS Volunteer Responders is not intended to replace local groups helping their vulnerable neighbours but is an additional service provided by the NHS.

Roles range from community response volunteers to patient transport volunteers and check in and chat volunteers. Some volunteers transport medical supplies and equipment where needed.

*** The intention when the scheme was launched was to enable GPs, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, NHS 111 advisers and social care staff to request help for their at-risk patients from the NHS Responders service. Some charities are also able to refer people to the service.

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