Volunteers make Newport a better place in many different ways. ESTEL FARELL-ROIG spoke to a few who won awards at this year’s Gwent Association of Voluntary Organisations awards, held earlier this month, to find out more about their contribution to the city.

MARK Harris, 51, of Roding Close, in Bettws, and his wife Deb Loosemore both have limited eyesight and are registered blind.

This doesn’t stop them making a difference in Newport though. The couple volunteer with Newport City Homes and are involved with the housing provider's disability and support group.

“We want to give a voice to the disabled people,” says Mr Harris. “If vital services were to be cut, we’d like our voices to be heard and have a say on how it it’d affect people like us.

“If we can make a difference by speaking out about our problems, that’s brilliant. We feel strongly about these issues.

“On housing, we’re focusing on getting safe, appropriate and suitable housing for the disabled – homes where people want to live, rather than where they should live.”

The couple, who were joint winners of the Personal Journey Award at this year’s ceremony, also present their own radio show, Newport City Radio.

Their show, which is on three times a week, plays music, promotes events in Newport and discusses different issues, such as programmes that have audio-description or useful gadgets which can make life easier.

“Volunteering makes me feel good,” Mr Harris added. “We’re doing our bit for the community.

“I was encouraged by certain people to give things a try. There are people out there who think that, because you have a disability, you can’t do it.

“We want to prove that where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Seventy-three-year-old Keith Wood, also of Bettws, is also involved in various projects.

The Monnow Way resident volunteers with Newport City Homes as well. He’s involved with the quality improvement panel, where they discuss the quality of the services provided.

“I’ve been living in the same property for 52 years, which is a bit of a record on itself,” he said. “When Newport City Homes took on the properties about eight years ago, they wanted the knowledge and expertise of residents.

“We help them understand what residents actually want and we try to help them plan for the future.

“For instance, when they’re designing kitchens, we give the opinion of a tenant and that you’d want plenty of storage space.

“However, my favourite job with Newport City Homes is to assist with recruitment interviews.”

Mr Wood, who also contributes to the housing association’s quarterly magazine, is also a member of the board academy of Newport City Homes and the vice-chair of the housing association’s disability and support group.

“We support people in their own home,” he says. “It’s important they have the right adaptations and, for instance, if someone uses a wheelchair, you want plug sockets to be within reach.

“They ask for our advice and input.

“What I enjoy the most is making a difference to other people, but I also like the interaction with other people.”

Mr Wood is also a volunteer for Newport City Museum. He also does regular talks and workshops about the history of Newport.

“It’s very rewarding,” he says. “I impart information but I also learn an awful lot from the people I talk to.

“It’s worthwhile to talk to people from all ages.”

Newport’s Street Pastors, a group of men and women who walk around the city centre handing out hundreds of lollipops and flip flops every month, also talk to all sorts of people.

The group won the Inspirational Award at this year’s GAVO awards.

For seven years, the street pastors have been a calming influence in the streets of the city; they talk, listen and re-assure.

Made up of volunteers from 17 different churches, they provide assistance to people who may have drunk to much on a night out and the homeless, among others.

Phill Jones, one of the co-ordinators, believes their job is to provide additional support to the emergency services.

“Because money is tight everywhere, there’s less availability for professionals to do everything that’s needed,” he said. “There are a lot of vulnerable adults on the streets at night – amongst others, rough sleepers, young people who are out and may have lost their friends and don’t have a phone.

“We spend time listening to people – time which emergency services may not have as they have other emergencies to attend.

"We try to take the pressure off the ambulance and the police.

“We’re a calming influence, we’re able to talk, listen and reassure people – which can stop things from escalating.”

Every night, they pick up around 50 glass bottles people take out of bars.

"We get a lot of respect from people,” added 61-year-old Ruth Flynn, of Moorland Park, in Lliswerry, who has been a street pastor for around six months.

“People tend to be quite impressed that we do this voluntarily.

“I thoroughly enjoy it, I’m a social person and I like meeting all kinds of people. I like helping people.

“I have interesting conversations with homeless people.

“Some people try to apologise to us for having had a drink, they say they didn’t want to get that drunk.

“It’s so easy to have that one drink that tips you over.

“I don’t judge anybody at all, that’s not what we do.

“If Jesus was here, he’d be out in the streets helping people, not in church.

“This is our city and we’re trying to make it a little bit better.”

Newport’s Volunteer Achievement Awards were hosted by GAVO hosted at the Newport Centre on October 6.

Amele Tukandra, over 25's volunteering officer at Newport’s GAVO, said: “It is the 10th year of the awards celebrations and it’s testimony to the dedication of the unsung hero's who give their time, energy and skill's to benefit others.

“Volunteers make a difference and change lives.

“We are very grateful to our sponsors would like to thank them for their continued support: ABC Electrification, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, British Airways, Charter Housing, Go Compare, Gwent Police, Harding Evan's Solicitors, Newport City Homes, and Newport Uskmouth Rotary.”

To find out more about volunteering, visit gavowales.org.uk/newport