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Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, with his monthly update for readers.

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Over the past several months, whilst we have been dealing with coronavirus and all the enormous challenges it has presented, it became clear at the start that a volunteer army was needed to help the thousands of people who were shielding due to their age or having underlying health conditions that made them more susceptible to the virus.

It was out of this need that the NHS Volunteer Responders came to be.

And in the first 24 hours since the announcement was made, back in March, over 170,000 people signed up to volunteer, and nearly 7,000 of them live in Suffolk.

These volunteers help with delivering groceries and medicines or even just making phone calls to check in and chat in with those who are on their own.

Just a few weeks ago, the NHS Volunteer Responders completed their one millionth task – a huge milestone. I could not be prouder of what has been achieved. My hope is that long after the pandemic ends and the need for the NHS Volunteer Responders dissipates, is that those people who have so kindly and generously given their effort and time will continue to volunteer for other organisations.

Volunteering is win-win situation for everyone. Government and the private sector can take care of most of the needs of society, but not all, so the rest falls to volunteers and the charity sector. Volunteers have been instrumental in advancing our war on coronavirus. We recently had fantastic news that a vaccine being produced by Pfizer is more than 90 per cent effective and may provide the way out of this terrible situation that we are in. But it is with the help of volunteers by having the trial vaccine tested on them that we can get to this point. I pay huge tribute to them and the sacrifices they have made, for the good of all of us.

Medical testing on volunteers is at one end of the spectrum, but there so many other ways to volunteer – and so many good reasons to volunteer. Both the physical benefits as well as the mental benefits of volunteering are well known. There is a proven link between volunteering and a reduction in stress and lowering blood pressure. Carrying out the physical tasks via volunteering that one may not have to do in their own life is also good for one’s health. But it is the benefits with one’s mental health through volunteering that are most evident.

Volunteering is good for people in so many ways – building self-esteem, giving a sense of purpose, reducing feelings of depression and anxiety, and producing feelings of self-confidence. But by being with others with a shared common purpose, this can help to end loneliness, it can help to build bonds with others and produce a sense of community. It is these social connections which are formed that can also help to ward off dementia.

Locally, it is easy to find volunteering opportunities. Volunteer Suffolk is an excellent website – easy to use and easy to find something to match volunteers’ skills and interests.

Our local council, West Suffolk Council, runs the site Love Where You Live, which is also full of volunteering opportunities. There is no shortage of organisations that need our help – we just need to find one that is ‘the right fit’ for us.

I hope you might space in your lives to do a bit of volunteering. With lockdown, all of us have a bit more time now – it might be a good time to enquire about volunteering opportunities, something to fit in with your personal schedule and your own interests. Hopefully, volunteering will become a good habit and something we can all do for the rest of our lives.