Volunteering at the Heart of H&H

2nd June 2021

This National Volunteer’s Week, we caught up with some of these selfless members of H&H’s team to find out which organisations they have chosen to get involved with and why.  

With businesses, and offices across the North of England and Scottish Borders and over 320 employees, H&H Group has always been very community focussed. And, for over 150 years its Harrison & Hetherington Auction Marts have been places for social gathering as well as for selling livestock and machinery. Its people, from, Secretaries to Insurance Agents and Property Agents to Account Handlers provide friendly and familiar faces in their professional capacities. However many of H&H’s staff have taken this ethos one step further and choose to go over and above their daily duties by volunteering with various organisations outside of their workplace.

Fiona Whelan, Financial Administrator with H&H Reeds, is proud to be a ‘Listening Volunteer’ for the Carlisle branch of Samaritans. For the past two years, she has given up three or four hours of her personal time each week to answer the calls of those in need and provide a listening ear. While it’s easy to simply make a donation, time is a precious commodity and, for the five to eight people Fiona speaks with each week, just having someone to talk to can make all the difference.

Fiona explains her role: “Volunteering for Samaritans is my personal way of giving back and I personally understand what so many of these people are going through.

Currently there is not the support network needed available through the NHS and a lot of people aren’t getting the vital help they need, and this is something which has been even more evident during the last year. So many people are challenged in ways many of us don’t realise; we simply carry on in our own world. At the end of most of the calls, you get thanked simply for listening and just being there for people. I have gained so much from it and made friends and met likeminded people. I enjoy it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic saw an increase in calls to the service, with many people feeling the weight of isolation and separation from loved ones.

Fiona continues: “Last year, because of COVID, I also volunteered for the NHS Volunteer Responder service which was set up to aid people in isolation. I opted for telephone alerts on the weekends and my days off. Most people I talk to are mature and living alone; they simply need an ear to listen and with this type of call I can relate and reminisce. I feel that in being a volunteer, I am making a difference by giving people a purpose and reminding them that they’re not alone.”

Working as Company Secretary and Personnel Manager for H&H Group, Margret Irving has recently signed up to support the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA). As someone who has a real love of horses, Margaret took up riding properly when she was 50 at her local riding school, Blackdyke, on the edge of Carlisle. When her riding teacher asked if anyone would be interested in volunteering, Margaret decided to offer her support.

“I have two nephews with special needs, and both have benefitted massively from the RDA and the work that they do. I really felt I wanted to give something back on their behalf and to acknowledge how our family have benefitted from this charity, which is now so close to their hearts.”

“As this is a very recent volunteering role, I am not entirely sure of the overall remit, however I know that it will involve supporting those who attend and taking the children out on horses on the lead rein.”

Initially Margaret has committed to helping out one evening a fortnight during the summer and autumn and is delighted that she is able to now combine her love for horses with volunteering in this way.

Joel McGarva is an auctioneer for Harrison & Hetherington based at Lockerbie and Carlisle Marts and he is a Mental Health Ambassador through RSABI as part of their #KeepTalking initiative.

As he says, it is very important to keep talking, and that farmers in particular can become especially affected by being isolated, with no interaction from others.

“The Covid pandemic brought with it very uncertain and unknown times, and many farmers I believed were going to be isolated and affected by not being able to see people. Attending the mart is a social occasion and a lot of my close customers come to the mart just to see people. Sometimes this is the only time they ever see anyone out with their own farm, so I was keen to offer an ear if needed”

“I wanted to help out with RSABI’s #KeepTalking initiative campaign as I knew how important the time spent at the market or other agricultural events is for the mental wellbeing of farmers. Even a five-minute phone call can make a world of difference to morale in strange times like these.”

Tim Sedgewick, Associate Director for H&H Land & Estates, has volunteered as County Durham Chairman of The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) from 2016 to Feb 2021. Today he remains a committee member of this the farming’s oldest and largest charity, which provides financial support, guidance and practical care to people of all ages.

“I first got involved with RABI in 2014, to help with the response to flooding affecting farmers nationwide. I really enjoy the camaraderie within the committee and how members are so passionate about raising funds to support others within the industry.  I was absolutely delighted when our team were awarded the RABI Cup in 2017 for most progressive county committee and managed to raise £32k at one single event – a lunch in the garden of Thornton Hall.”

For those living, working and running businesses in rural communities, their local shows are a key date in the calendar important platforms for showcasing livestock, crafts, food and drink flowers and vegetables. These regional events are incredibly important to rural communities, and simply wouldn’t happen without the help of volunteers.

Across the H&H Group, many of the staff help at their local and county shows, support their local Agricultural Societies and key players in their local Young Farmers Clubs. Nina Oxley, Group Marketing Manager, is one such person and is Vice Chair of Skelton Show, an event which she has been involved with for a few years. With an impressive skillset, Nina volunteers her time because she feels she can make a difference and help the day be as big a success as it can be for the local area.

“This is a key event for our whole community, which relies entirely on its team of volunteers to prepare and run it on the day. I was initially asked to get involved thanks to my close connection with H&H and because I lived locally. As someone who is from out-with the area I feel very honoured to have now been elected as Vice Chairperson and I always try to help and support in any way that I can both on show day and pre and post the show.”

“As a committee we are there to present a show, but each year the show also supports small ad hoc financial requests from very local causes and organisations such as the local school and village hall. For me volunteering in this way is giving something back to the wonderful local community in which I live.”

Commenting Dawn Harrison, Non-Executive Director on the Board of H&H Group said: “I am very impressed by the initiative H&H staff are showing in the ways they are ‘giving back’ to the community.  Each of these activities are of great value to the charitable organisations, but also to the individuals and in turn they bring their insights, skills and energy back to their teams.”

More info on National Volunteer’s Week 2021

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