Andrea, People Participation
Coordinator for the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust Children, Families and Young People’s Service across Norfolk and Waveney.
I have a volunteering journey that started in 1998 and continued for many years. Unpaid work had never crossed my mind prior to this but when I was diagnosed with clinical depression, I chose to give up my full-time job and started thinking more about my wellbeing and recovery. Giving something back to my community has always been important to me and volunteering was an opportunity to do this whilst building my self-esteem and confidence.
I started by taking small steps, giving my time one morning a week at a local charity shop. I chose this opportunity as I knew it didn’t get too busy and the staff had always made me feel welcome in the past. Also, I was only going to be there for three hours and, as I wasn’t getting paid, I didn’t have to go in if I felt unwell. Back then, I was extremely anxious and panic attacks were a regular occurrence. I worried that my anxiety might get the better of me and I would end up letting everyone down, including myself. I talked it through with my husband and we agreed how I felt was normal and nothing to be ashamed of. I had an honest conversation with the manager before I started who was very supportive and reassured me, I could take things at my own pace. We would often have a chat about how I was doing, and she genuinely seemed to care. Sorting through clothes in the back room slowly turned into dressing the window and serving customers. Then one day, I was asked to open the shop – I loved it and never looked back! I will be forever grateful to the amazing people there who helped me believe in myself again and discover my worth.
(On the right is Andrea volunteering to support care home residents on a trip to the Sealife Centre)
My voluntary position with the charity led to paid work…
They say from little acorns mighty oaks grow and this was certainly the case for me! The charity shop was just the start and soon I was doing several voluntary jobs including volunteer befriender for a charity and playing scrabble one morning a week with an elderly lady who was living in a care home temporarily. I ended up spending all day at the home, eating lunch with residents, and talking to them until it was time to pick my son up from school. A memorable moment for me was supporting staff to take the residents on a trip to the Sea Life Centre; so many people smiled that day, including me!
Training was provided for some of my voluntary positions but being myself, showing empathy, actively listening, and wanting to make a difference were the main skills I needed to volunteer.
My voluntary position with the charity led to paid work. I remember the manager explaining my willingness to get involved, good work ethic and commitment contributed to me being offered the role. Over the years, I met other people who were also volunteering, some of which I now network with in my NSFT role – it’s lovely seeing what we’ve achieved and how volunteering benefitted us.
When I first started volunteering it gave me a purpose but very quickly because something I enjoyed. I recently approached the church as I know giving my time and skills will make a difference to our community.
I would recommend volunteering if you have spare time and would like to spend it helping others. My advice would be to choose a role you feel passionate about.