Last month we told you that selfless Big Issue vendor Julie Cherry was spending her time away from selling the magazine on the streets to volunteer for the NHS – but she is still waiting for the phone to ring.
The Bournemouth seller, 51, was one of 750,000 people who answered the call for a 250,000-strong volunteer army to help the NHS support vulnerable people while Britain is stuck in Covid-19 lockdown.
Unable to sell The Big Issue magazine while vendors are temporarily removed from the streets and also forced to halt her job as a matchday steward at Southampton FC and Bournemouth FC, Julie signed up to offer over-the-phone support to the most vulnerable people in her local area.
She told The Big Issue: “I must have logged about 100 hours and I haven’t made a phone call yet. I’m raring to go.
“They keep sending me emails to apologise because there are so many people around me who have volunteered so I’m just waiting.
“They sent me a poster to print out to put in the local supermarket so people can contact me but I don’t know how, I haven’t got a printer or even a computer.
“I presume there are not enough people to call – when I look at the volunteers there are about 19 people near me on a half-a-mile radius. I’m keen to get my first call done so I can get over my nerves.”
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
Like many of the people who volunteered, Julie wanted to help “any way she can”, going beyond the shopping she is also doing for her neighbours, when she was left at a loose end because of the pandemic.
That inspired her to sign up to the scheme alongside 750,000 others. The Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), who run the rapidly put-together system, confirmed to The Big Issue that 600,000 people remain ready to help following the initial vetting process.
That is well in excess of the 250,000 people originally sought and it is more than is required to deal with the workload too – with 100,000 tasks completed so far.
RVS’ director of volunteering Rebecca Kenelly told The Big Issue: “We signed up to a crisis without knowing exactly what the need was so we were told that up to three million people could need help with things like shopping and a regular call.
“We believe that we’ve got the right number of volunteers potentially to meet the needs of communities. We’ve got a volunteer in every community across the whole of England so as soon as a task is logged in the system we are matching people with a volunteer within a day 98 per cent of the time.
“What we are saying to our volunteers at the moment is please be patient, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Tasks are increasing daily and as government policy changes and people are continuing to shield that need for help is going to continue because family and neighbourly connections may be more stretched.
“We also want to say a huge thank you to volunteers because your efforts means this system has the credibility to work.”
The Royal Voluntary Service have now launched a direct helpline for people who need the help of a volunteer to self-refer themselves. Call 08081963646 if you need assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic.
And you can help us carry on supporting vendors like Julie by buying The Big Issue magazine. You can buy one-off issues or subscriptions from The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.
You can keep us going by subscribing to the magazine to receive it every week directly to your door or device. Head to bigissue.com/subscribe for more details.
You can also get a copy in stores for the first time. Head to Sainsbury’s, McColl’s, Co-op, Asda or WH Smith to grab the latest issue.