What I’ve learned from volunteering

Zone senior delivery manager Bethan Broadbent reflects on her experience volunteering for Independent Age and offers tips to others wanting to give something back…

Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels

You are brilliant! In this article I’m not trying to be preachy, or make anyone feel inadequate because they’re not volunteering for the greater good. We all have our own commitments and challenges, and are all doing the best we can. So if anyone hasn’t already told you today, then this is your reminder…you are brilliant!

In 2019 my grandad, who had lived in the Lake District his whole life, moved into a nursing home closer to my parents so he could receive the care he needed. This also meant I was able to visit him more and in doing so I was absolutely overwhelmed by the kindness of the staff and how much they cared for him. It also dawned on me that with my parents visiting him most days, the big increase in human interaction had really improved his quality of life.

My gran and grandad had been married for 50 years and they were inseparable. When my gran passed away, he became very lost. He could go days without physically seeing someone and we could all see his mental health was deteriorating. However, as soon as he moved into the nursing home, my grandad’s mental health improved immensely and you could see his personality come back.

I remember coming away from a visit thinking how lucky my grandad was, living in such a caring environment as well as having my parents close by to visit. It made me realise that there were so many older people who are not as lucky and I started doing some research with the intention of helping in any way I could.

That’s when I discovered Independent Age, a charity that specialises in loneliness in older people. Independent Age provides free information and advice for older people and their families and also provides friendship services to relieve loneliness. It campaigns for a ‘fair deal’ for older people, but at the heart of everything they do is independence and this concept really resonated with me.

In doing wider research, I knew this was the charity I’d like to get involved with and within a few weeks I had completed my interviews and training to become a visit volunteer as part of the friendship service. Due to Covid-19 I’ve not been able to meet anyone in real life, however I’m now a telephone volunteer for 30–60 minutes every week. I currently speak to a lady called Catherine, who lives on her own, struggles to walk due to a disability, has no family and has carers three times a week. Her last visit of the week is on Thursday and the next one isn’t until Monday — during this time she doesn’t see or speak to anyone and feels incredibly lonely. I call Catherine every Sunday afternoon and we have a good old catch-up about the past week, what’s coming up next week and anything and everything in between. Sometimes they last 30 mins and sometimes they can be over an hour — it completely depends on how we’re both feeling.

Knowing the impact this has on Catherine means the world to me. I’m only giving up 30 minutes and not even leaving my house — but I know this is important and makes a difference, especially at a moment where human interaction has been reduced more than ever.

Photo by Pixabay

I’ve been reflecting on my volunteering experience so far, and as I think about how I can look to do more with my time and help more people, I’ve put together a list of things I think are important to consider.

1.Find your purpose

  • You have to have a purpose and a reason to volunteer your time — it’s important to find something you’re passionate about, that resonates with you and that you feel committed to.
  • People can be hard work — you need to stay true to what you’re doing and why, to enable you to push through the sometimes challenging situations you might face.
  • Understand the bigger picture — you won’t always feel like you’re making a difference but by being passionate about what you’re doing and being able to look at the bigger picture will help.

2. Step out of your comfort zone

  • It’s OK to feel nervous — volunteering and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can be scary. I’m terrible at doing things on my own for the first time (I struggle to go to a gym class on my own!) and so to pick up the phone and start a conversation with someone I didn’t know and couldn’t see, was really scary for me. But I did it because I was committed to helping someone else and as a result, it helped me too!
  • Persevere — you will get so much back from giving to somebody else.
  • Start small — don’t jump in by committing to lots of things. For me, phone calls were the best way for me to start as I felt I could handle that and not get overwhelmed. Start small to build your confidence and then go for it!
  • Get feedback & learn — check you’re on the right track and learn where to improve by getting regular feedback. This will help you focus and grow.

3. Research — it’s so important

  • Know what you’re signing up for — be clear about what you’re agreeing to and ask questions. Do you agree with their mission?
  • Training — make sure you feel you’re provided with the right tools to be successful. Most charities will insist on training before you start so be prepared for this.
  • Time — make sure you’re clear on the commitment of your time. Your time is so precious and you need to make sure you’re using it in a way that you’re happy with.

4. Boundaries — every little helps so make sure you know your own boundaries and stick to them

  • Don’t overcommit — don’t say yes because you think it’s the right thing to do. It’s better to be upfront and honest rather than let someone down.
  • A little goes a long way — recognise that anything you can do is amazing and will make a difference…even 30 minutes a week!
  • Feeling safe — organisations/charities have an obligation to look after and protect not only the vulnerable people they’re supporting, but also their volunteers. Do your research and make sure they have your interests at heart as well.

5. It should be fun — volunteering should be a positive experience!

  • This should benefit you too — you’re doing an amazing thing to give up your time for someone else, so take a step back and feel good about yourself and what you’re doing
  • Don’t let hard days get you down — sometimes things don’t go to plan, but just remember to take a step back and think of the bigger picture and why you’re doing what you’re doing — and keep going
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Finally, if you do decide to volunteer in whatever way you feel you can, then remember you’re doing an amazing thing and should be proud of yourself. You’re helping someone more than you’ll ever know and are making a difference, especially during such a hard time.

Hopefully this has inspired you, but as I said at the beginning please remember that we all have our own commitments and goals, so keep doing what you’re doing to achieve yours. However I would highly recommend volunteering for a charity and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I hope to continue and build on my volunteering experience for a long time to come.

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