Every year, Voluntary Action Islington celebrates the people who go above and beyond to support their community in the Volunteer of the Year Awards. Two of this year’s worthy winners, Zoe Coventry and Lawrence Curtis, tell us about their work
I have four children and when they outgrew their clothes, I wanted to find a use for them. I went to see Little Village, a baby clothes bank off Euston Road – it looked great, so I asked if I could volunteer. That was six years ago. They only cater for children up to age five, so I ended up looking for an organisation for older children. That’s when I found MerryGoRound, off Upper Street. I started volunteering there, too.
The other organisation I work with is The People’s Army, which offers cooked meals and other services to families. But my main focus is the Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation (MEWSO), which supports victims of domestic violence, trafficked women and asylum seekers. Often these women arrive with nothing and are in very unstable situations, living in hostels or homeless. I go with them to the council, help them find legal aid and do school applications, get school uniforms. As a mother and someone who has lived in Islington for 17 years, it feels like my duty to help others.
I delivered a bundle of clothes recently to a family with two young children, who both have cancer. They have no recourse to public funds and things are desperate. I put some clothes in that were very pretty and bright. When the daughter came home from nursery, she was so excited. These are things most people take for granted. Knowing you’ve brought some relief makes all the difference.
I had a couple of periods of depression. A lot of the recovery was naturally serious – and it helped me very much – but I thought, wouldn’t it be great if some of it was fun? To be given an opportunity to talk about normal things, rather than what went wrong. I mentioned this to somebody and they said, why don’t you set something up yourself? So I did.
With Healthy Minds, Healthy Bods (HMHB), we’ve created what I think is a pioneering course. We focus on mindset, nutrition, exercise, health. Sessions are interactive and fun. We have access to Better gym studios and run two free weekly fitness sessions, as well as health walks. There is no pressure: we just want people to feel a part of something. It’s all about positivity. We have people who have cancer, have suffered a stroke, heart disease. But we don’t talk about it – you can if you want, and we signpost to support – we bring them a bit of normal life, a chance for to get out, socialise and enjoy life.
We did our first walk seven years ago and some people have been with us since. Winning Volunteer of the Year was amazing. After so much work, it’s nice to get recognised. We are like a family at HMHB and without them, I wouldn’t have won anything.
See the full list of winners on the VAI website.