Isolation and loneliness are real issues for many residents in Islington, but thanks to people like Martin, who give their time to help, building new connections is possible.
“I do enjoy meeting people. And I think it’s rewarding for me to help my community.”, explains Martin, who’s been volunteering with local organisation Help on Your Doorstep for over five years.
Martin has lived in Islington his whole life and knows the borough like no one else; every street and every corner. In fact, when meeting him, he’s the one guiding us to find the best spot around Angel to shoot a photo of him that will appear at the giant billboard in front of the Business Design Centre over the next few weeks ahead of Christmas.
He works three days a week at The Elfrida Society, a charity that supports people with learning disabilities, and volunteers the rest of the days at the Canonbury Estate with HOYD as well as in various charity shops in the borough.
When asked how he started collaborating with Help on your Doorstep, Martin explains that in 2015 he “wanted to go back into the swing in a role of volunteering after a while” and he met Nicky, the Coordinator of the New River Green Good Neighbours Scheme (GNS), who explained “all the ways in which she was involved” and how he “could get involved at events, poster runs, etc.”.
“I call him my right-hand man”, says Nicky, “Martin is always by my side at important events, he works across the GNS, he is the most unselfish person I know, he posters the area with me, he trains at the football club with 5 to 9 year olds...he really is an amazing person”.
Tackling isolation in the borough
A few years ago, after a borough-wide research, we found that isolation was a big issue for many residents in Islington and we wanted to do something to help bring the community together.
We worked with Help on Your Doorstep to establish the Good Neighbours Scheme , a service to break isolation by creating spaces and opportunities for people to come together, share experiences and build real and sustained relationships with neighbours.
The volunteers are a key part of the GNS, and help the coordinators prepare everything to run the different sessions such as coffee mornings, meditation or yoga classes in the community centres where they take place.
“Without volunteers it would be so hard! They do really make projects come alive,” Nicky reckons, and adds, “the groups of residents are big and without them, the sessions wouldn’t run as smoothly; it also encourages the GNS clients to get involved, we call them natural volunteers, they’re not actually signed up to the GNS as volunteers but they come in and help when they can.”
For Martin, the GNS at Canonbury has become like a second family. “The people that come to the events become friends, and also the people who run the sessions.” And Nicky agrees, “I think because the atmosphere here is so good as well, that encourages volunteers to come back”..
Volunteering has also helped Martin build up confidence and “new skills to put into my CV,” he says. Nicky ads that “Martin has grown so much, that he’s now public speaking and meeting new people. We hold reference groups with our group users and community so that they can let us know what they want from a GNS, how we can shape it and make it better and he actually speaks up so much in those groups, it’s great to see.”
Be an Angel, Islington.
Thanks to HOYD, the GNS and people like Nicky and Martin, vulnerable people in Islington have a space in which to build those much-needed social connections that will make them thrive.
If you want to help your neighbours, make sure to share this story on social using #GoodNeighbours and tagging @isgiv and @HOYD_Connect, make a donation to Islington Giving or get in touch with Help on Your Doorstep to learn more about their projects and volunteering opportunities.