A Wrexham mum has been dubbed a ‘volunteering champion’ for her work at the NHS Wales Rainbow Hospitals during the pandemic and helping at her local Barnardo’s charity shop.

Belinda Mortell, a mum of two, says volunteering makes her a better person, and now in the run-up to Volunteers’ Week (June  1-6) she’s encouraging others to follow in her footsteps.

She explained that she is following a family tradition in volunteering.

She said: “My parents instilled in me the importance of helping out in the community. They did a lot for the elderly, were involved in church events and supported the local hospice.

“They were always doing things for others and still are. I am very conscious that I have a nice life and not everybody’s life is as good, so I want to do something to help. I hope it makes me a better person.”

When the pandemic hit, the dietitian was one of many former NHS workers who answered the call to return to the NHS, plugging the gaps as sickness levels among regular staff hit crisis levels.

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The Leader: Volunteer Belinda Mortell (right) pictured with manager of the Barnardo's Gwersyllt store Jeanette TaitVolunteer Belinda Mortell (right) pictured with manager of the Barnardo's Gwersyllt store Jeanette Tait

Her previous employers Danone, who supply medical nutritional products, provided two days of paid volunteering leave a year to its employees before Covid.

Once the pandemic began that limit was lifted and Belinda was able to volunteer an additional 48 days over two years.

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Belinda explained: "I knew how difficult my old NHS colleagues were finding things, so I spoke to my sales director and requested the additional volunteering days and he agreed. I undertook readiness training in the Rainbow Hospital supporting the dietetics department initially and six months later I was asked back to work with malnourished patients in care homes. It was an amazing experience.”

Now working for Oviva, which provides lifestyle education for people living with diabetes and obesity, she once again used her employer’s paid volunteering day, this time choosing Barnardo’s.

She has also been volunteering at the children’s charity retail store in Gwersyllt since September, giving up four hours of her own time every Sunday to help on the shop floor.

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She said: “I’m supporting the community and it’s a chance to get out of the house, get away from my mobile phone and do something completely different.

“Going to the shop each Sunday is also good for my mental health as I work from home so get very little face to face contact with my colleagues.  I had never worked in retail before, but I undertook training and got to grips with how the shop works. It's useful for my development too as customer service is crucial in my role in Oviva where I work in NHS sales and partnerships."

The number of companies offering staff paid time off for volunteering is increasing as businesses recognise that many employees want to get more involved in their communities. It’s also an opportunity for them to learn new skills and forge lasting relationships.

Belinda said: “During Volunteers’ Week I'd like to ask everyone to have a look at their company benefits and find out if paid volunteering days are included. Even if they are not, consider helping out a fantastic charity like Barnardo’s in your spare time as they really do depend on people like me.”

Jenna Dowell, Senior Volunteering Partner with Barnardo’s, said: “Our amazing team of diverse volunteers are the heart of our shops and their time and effort helped us support more than 11,000 children, young people and families across Wales last year.

“If you choose to volunteer with us you will meet new people every day and have fun while helping a fantastic cause. You will also get to enhance your CV and learn skills that will boost your job prospects.

“Those skills include customer service, merchandising, communication and learning about sustainable fashion. You don’t need any particular skills to start off with, other than being friendly, willing to learn and passionate about making a difference to your community.”

 Barnardo’s has volunteering opportunities in its children and family services and fundraising as well as retail. If you are interested in finding out more then please search opportunities online at www.barnardos.org.uk/shops/volunteer-shop or contact your local store manager for an informal chat.