Wallington resident and local Health Champion Christine has been volunteering since she was six years old, first helping her mother to collect money for their local RSPCA. This inspired a lifelong passion for volunteering and helping others, with her efforts recognised with an MBE and a Royal Voluntary Society award.
For Volunteers Week 2023, we spoke to Christine about the difference she’s made and why others should help out in their community.
What would you say to someone interested in getting involved with their community?
“Volunteering is good for you! I can’t tell you the amount of fun I have had over the years and the amazing people I have met. My one motivation is always – have I made a difference? If you don’t know where to start, think about what you’re passionate about and what your skills are. Are you a good listener? Do you enjoy reading or cooking?
“We saw during the pandemic that many people started volunteering to help out their neighbours – for example with food parcels or at vaccination centres. With the rising cost of living, lots of small community groups have emerged to support people, but they need your help to meet demand. So I say again: volunteer, if you see an opportunity, take it, move out of your comfort zone and try something new as you never know where it will lead.”
How did you get involved in health and wellbeing volunteering?
“I love where I live and talk to everyone I meet – so you could say I’m pretty well-known in Wallington! The council contacted me in 2013 after South Wallington was found to have the second highest number of older people living alone and the highest number of people living with long-term conditions. We set up the Wallington Community Wellbeing Group to get people together to try to tackle the issues. The first thing we did was look at what activities were happening across Wallington and create a calendar of events to help people start building connections and reduce social isolation.
“Five years later we’d formally registered Wallington Community Wellbeing as a charity and have run activities ever since. Things like Tai Chi, chair yoga, exercise after a stroke and art for wellbeing. We also organise at least two health and wellbeing events a year where we invite the NHS, Sutton Borough Council and local charities and groups to talk to people about services and support available to them.”
Volunteering is good for you! I can’t tell you the amount of fun I have had over the years and the amazing people I have met.Christine
What is a Health Champion and how did you become one?
“Health Champion projects started up all over the country during the pandemic. We’re a network of volunteers who help share information about health and wellbeing with our friends, neighbours and communities.
“I got involved in the local scheme in Sutton after I was asked by the NHS to film a short video about my experience of getting the Covid-19 vaccine at the Epsom Racecourse Mass Vaccination Centre. This has been the highlight of being a Health Champion, as I was able to show how easy, quick and painless it was to get a jab and therefore help to encourage uptake by other Sutton residents. I’m very active on social media and have a wide range of contacts in Sutton. Because of my ‘standing’ in the community, people were more likely to trust what I shared than other negative posts people were seeing at the same time.”
What kind of things do you do as a Health Champion?
“Health Champions meet at least once a month (it was weekly during the pandemic) to discuss the current important health issues. We then circulate this information quickly to our contacts through social media groups and pages. I know that we made a big difference during the pandemic in helping people to feel informed about what was happening. Recently we’ve helped to share messages about flu vaccinations, lung health, cancer screening, pharmacy services and opening hours – and much more.
“We also identify under-represented groups in the local health and care system, such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, homeless people or those digitally excluded. By meeting with these groups and the NHS, we can help improve people’s health – which is really important when there are unfair differences in health for some communities, like life expectancy for example.”
And lastly… tell us about your MBE!
“In June 2022 I received my MBE for voluntary and charitable services to the community. I have been humbled and honoured in equal parts to have been invited to take part in quite a few events since, including a Buckingham Palace Garden Party, the Platinum Jubilee Concert at the Palace and then the State Funeral of The Late Queen Elizabeth II. But none of this is just down to me – I may lead, but with no followers I could not achieve what we have together.”