Leeds South & East Foodbank volunteer Nicky tells her story

Nicky Lawrence (3rd from the left) after a busy day hosting corporate volunteers.
Nicky Lawrence (3rd from the left) after a busy day hosting corporate volunteers.
Nicky Lawrence (3rd from the left) after a busy day hosting corporate volunteers.

Around 5 years ago I wasn’t doing great. In hindsight, I think I was most likely clinically depressed for several years at that time.

I loved being a stay at home mum but, as my son became more independent, I needed to fill my time. There was no financial need for me to work but I started applying for jobs. I was never successful and the whole process was stressful and upsetting and my self-esteem became really low.

In 2018 I was diagnosed with lipoedema which affects the way my legs deal with fats and causes pain and swelling. The whole process of getting diagnosed, going through treatment and changing my lifestyle meant I didn’t feel I’d ever be capable of taking on a full time job. But I still wanted to do something productive with my time, and something that made a difference.

It occurred to me one day, as I put a donation in the supermarket food bank trolley that it would be good to volunteer. After months of procrastinating, I plucked up the courage to do something I would never usually do and approached John Newbold who was collecting the trolley. John took my email address and, in July 2019, I started helping at the Rothwell branch of Leeds South and East Foodbank on Thursday mornings.

While I enjoyed it and got on with the other volunteers, I was quite reserved, and didn’t feel like I was contributing very much until at Christmas 2019 I spent time at the warehouse helping to sort through the excess donations. Despite this being my first experience of how unpleasant milk can smell when it has dripped through an entire stack of crates, I enjoyed actually being able to see the progress we’d made, and I felt like I’d made a real difference.

When lockdown happened, I became very anxious and didn’t leave our property for the first month. We were fortunate that both my husband and son thrived on working from home and were comfortable meeting with friends online. I too was meeting friends online but I missed human contact. Even so, when I started going to the supermarket I dreaded the crowds.

I knew that my fear of leaving the house would get worse so when the Foodbank set up a delivery service in Halton, I was keen to volunteer. I desperately wanted to help in this crisis and this was perfect! I met Sinead Williams, the office manager, who has since become one of my closest friends and having that face to face contact with a friend has really helped me deal with the stress and anxiety of the pandemic.

I started out volunteering two days each week. As most volunteers only came once a week, I became the person who knew what we should do next, when Sinead wasn’t available to ask. As the foodbank had to close suddenly for lockdown in March and didn’t reopen until May, all the stock dated April 2020 was wasted. I also took on the responsibility for stock rotation at Halton to avoid a repeat of this situation.

As time went on, I was asked to cover for another volunteer so started volunteering 3 days each week and have even covered for Sinead when she took a week off work. It was a stressful week and I was nervous but the work needed doing and I was the best person to do it. This was a strange but pleasant feeling. I organised deliveries, parcel-packing and made phone calls to strangers. (It’s strange to compare this to a year before, when I was unable to even ring the food bank to volunteer without getting sweaty palms and chickening out!) By the time Sinead returned I was exhausted, but so, so happy. I felt more like myself than I had for years.

When the food banks reopened, the delivery service was closed so I came to the warehouse to help. As well as stock rotation, my role has also included travelling to our branches to teach managers how to use the new database on their tablets and I have a licence to use a fork lift truck!
Two years ago I was too nervous to make a phone call and I felt like I was wasting my life. Now I can walk into a roomful of strangers and take charge if need be. I’m proud of what I do, and enjoy doing it. I’m happier than I thought I would ever be.

I get on well with everyone and I feel respected and appreciated in a way that I have never experienced before in a work environment. My ideas and suggestions are listened to and considered and I feel like a competent, capable adult. Some days I barely recognise myself but I also barely recognise the scared sad little person I used to be pre-pandemic.

Mentally, emotionally and physically I’m a LOT stronger (I’ve been lifting crates of tins almost daily for over 18 months now. My biceps have noticeably grown!) Because I’ve gradually increased the amount I do, I can now stand and work for hours in the warehouse, which would have seemed impossible when I was first diagnosed with lipoedema. The condition is likely to become more severe as I age, but I have no intention of letting that stop me volunteering!

I can see the good I’ve done. I’ve helped provide food to hungry people, being mindful of dietary requirements, and helped ensure families have the right sized nappies for their babies. These may be little things, but they’re important, and I’m proud to be a part of making them happen.
I’ve made a real difference by working for Leeds South and East Foodbank in partnership with the Trussell Trust during the pandemic. And they have made a real difference to me.

Sinead says, “Nicky first began volunteering with us at Rothwell Foodbank for 2 hours a week. I then met Nicky when she had stepped in to help at the Halton Distribution Centre during the pandemic. It was clear then that she was a really dedicated and diligent volunteer, but in the 18 months since she has absolutely flourished. She is ready and willing to take on any task given to her, from accommodating corporate volunteers in the warehouse, filling in for foodbank centre managers to even getting a forklift license! Not only is Nicky excellent in her role, she is also incredibly kind hearted and a joy to be around. She is now absolutely indispensable to Leeds South and East Foodbank and we all love having her as part of our amazing volunteering team.”

The Trust supported the expansion of Leeds South & East Foodbank during the pandemic, enabling them to provide support for more people within their community. For more information about Leeds South and East Foodbank and details of how to get in touch go to: https://leedssouthandeast.foodbank.org.uk/

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