A mini army of more than 500 volunteers from across the generations are supporting Worcestershire County Council's mission to provide world class libraries and learning opportunities for residents.
Some 20,000 hours are gifted a year by volunteers performing a range of services, from digital champions, Summer Reading Challenge mentors and Job Club supporters, to people delivering books to the homes of the housebound.
Today, to mark Volunteers' Week 2017, we have turned the spotlight on two of our brilliant volunteers.
CASE STUDY 1:
Ann Gray is a meeter-and-greeter at The Hive, Worcester's unique public and university landmark library and archive headquarters.
Ann, from St John's, moved to Worcester six years ago from Kent with her husband for his new job and was eager to find things to do to help her make new friends.
She has been a familiar face at The Hive since it opened in 2012, meeting visitors and dealing with queries one morning a week.
"I'm a people person and it has been an absolute joy to be part of the Hive team. I've made lots of friends; being a volunteer has really helped me settle into a very happy life here. My husband and I envisaged returning to Kent in our retirement but Worcester is home for us now; we can't imagine being anywhere else."
As with many of our volunteers, Ann's willingness to give doesn't end with her role with the council – she also volunteers as a cook, server and friend of homeless and vulnerable people at the city's Maggs day centre.
Why does she do it? "I get so much out of helping others. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago. I'm now well and feel very much that I've been given a second chance so I want to make the most of it and support others however I can."
Ann's zest for life is in part fuelled by her love of running. Prior to her illness she was a world class marathon runner – she was a British age group champion and won a silver medal at the New York Marathon in the over-40s category. She has returned to running in the past few years, and is now a regular at the 5km Park Run held weekly at Worcester Woods.
She has just completed her 250th park run – quite a milestone for someone aged 74!
"I was a late comer to running, only taking it up at 39 – but I discovered I loved it." She was inspired by her son Anthony Whiteman, who was a world class middle distance runner and double Olympian, representing Team GB at the Games in 1996 and 2000. He is still a world class performer in the masters' category.
CASE STUDY 2:
Janet Dickinson is a familiar sight as she drives around the streets and lanes of Kidderminster and Wolverley in her pristine 32-year-old Volvo, delivering books to the housebound or those with mobility issues.
For 42 years, without fail, Janet has performed her voluntary role, visiting readers who can no longer visit the library in person.
Based out of Kidderminster Library, Janet collects books chosen by her attendees and drives to the home of each recipient, dropping off the books and stopping for a chat.
One of her regulars, who she's been visiting for a decade, is Margaret Brown, known to everyone as Rita.
At the age of 102 years, Rita is still a vicarious reader, and her visits from Janet are a highlight.
"She is wonderful," said Rita. "I can't get about easily now without support and I couldn't get to the library so if it wasn't for Janet I wouldn't be able to keep up with my reading."
Rita lives in her own home and remains totally independent, receiving daily care visits alongside calls and drop-ins from neighbours and friends.
Says Janet: "She is a marvellous companion and I love our visits. I often end up chatting for half an hour or more with Rita – as I do with most of my customers! Everybody at the library pulls my leg about how long my round takes!"
Like many volunteers, Janet's eagerness to help others also extends to other charity work. She has recently been recruited as an Age UK befriender, visiting isolated people at home; has supported Kemp Hospice for several years; looked after a stroke patient at home; worked on a hospital ward; and been a host on an Age Concern minibus service.
Caroline Faulkner, Kidderminster Library Manager, said the support of volunteers like Janet makes a huge difference to the service given to readers.
"We are very proud of our volunteers in Worcestershire and our services are greatly enhanced as a result of their support."
Libraries across Worcestershire are always keen to attract volunteers of all ages but we are particularly looking for young volunteers for the national Summer Reading Challenge. Young people aged 12-24 are being sought to deliver the challenge and to support and mentor younger readers from June 24 to mid-September. Visit www.worcestershire.gov.uk/librariesandlearning for more information.