I began college as a mature student at the age of 39 years old. I had not participated in any learning for over 23 years. I did not succeed academically at school so it was quite a challenge. Once I had my first child I began work as a cleaner through which I met an inspiring lady called Celia who encouraged me to work in social care. I started working as a care assistant. As my children grew up I took the decision to go to college and did a National Diploma in Care to earn more money. Part of the course required me to do 100 hours voluntary work to gain experience in a caring role. The Council for Voluntary Service told me a local Home-Start scheme was starting up to support families with bereavement, managing on a low income and depression amongst other things. I thought, "I can relate to some of those issues as I had
been there myself more times than I care to remember."
The training course covered a lot of elements in working with families; it was interesting and informative. Eventually I was 'let loose' on a family to try out my new found skills. I visited 'my family' once a week and I logged each visit in my Home-Start diary. At times I did not feel I was being much help, but at each supervision the organiser pointed out the positive changes in the family I was visiting. As well as giving 'my family' confidence, mine was growing also. I went on to have other families and seeing them progress through their sometimes stressful situation and come out the other side was extremely rewarding.
I passed my BTEC National Diploma in Care with flying colours, and my self esteem went through the roof. My plan was to get a better paid job but my tutor suggested that I go on the Access to Social Work course! She said it would lead me on to university! I had many doubts as no one in my family has ever been to university. I was encouraged by friends, Celia, college and Home-Start staff to apply for the course and see where it took me. I was surprised how much information I had actually retained from my ten week Home-Start training, volunteering and the BTEC course. Soon I heard I had been accepted at all three universities, providing I got the required credits, which
I did. I was stunned and delighted. Although it was hard at times and I wanted to quit, I hung on in there and qualified with a 2:1 BA (Hons) in Social Work.
"I know that without the support and encouragement from everyone at Home-Start, my college tutors, friends, husband and family I would not be where I am today. I am now a Senior Practitioner with a children's charity and a trustee of my local Home-Start scheme."
We have a special volunteer in our scheme who despite personal difficulties manages to make a huge contribution. When she was 8 months pregnant she had a brain haemorrhage. She survived against the odds but had to relearn many tasks including speaking and counting. She previously worked at a bank and had studied psychology and sociology at college. After this event she had to rethink her plans as returning to her previous employment was not possible. Some days she can be fine and feel well enough to be out much of the day, but at other times she becomes very tired and needs to rest at home.
When she got in touch about volunteering she was keen to use the skills that she felt that she had in a constructive way to give more meaning to her life. With her son at school, she had time during the day, but was not well enough consistently to work. Volunteering, she felt, would give purpose to the day and she felt that she had a lot to give – understanding the difficulties that could beset families out of the blue.
She went ahead with the preparation course and has since supported five families. She has given fantastic support to families who have suffered depression. She is a superb listener, has a wonderful calm manner and is a great confidence builder.
Last year she supported a family with a three year old whose mother was dying of cancer. At the close of support, his father wrote, “towards the end of my wife’s life she struggled to cope with our son. I can honestly say that our volunteer became a very close friend in the short time she visited us.”
For the last two years she been visiting two families a week and has also been helping at our Family Group, a task that she has enjoyed. She welcomes new families to the group, introduces children to activities they might not have participated in before, helps setting out toys and making drinks.
Volunteering has provided a sense that she can put something back into the community and that she has a valuable role to play. Her illness means that she tires really easily and frequently has periods where she has to collapse in bed for the afternoon. She would find it extremely difficult to work, but volunteering with the scheme allows her some measure of flexibility.
“Our volunteer’s story illustrates how valuable volunteering can be for those who have physical disabilities or long term health problems. Whilst the organiser concerned has to be very careful in matching such volunteers, and families visited need to be aware of the situation, volunteers in this position have much to give and without fail, every family this volunteer has visited has talked in glowing terms about what she has brought to their situation – “she’s wonderful” is the most common adjective that comes to mind.”
I gave birth to my first child exactly one month after my 20th birthday. I had only been married a short while, the pregnancy was unplanned and I had absolutely no experience of babies or children! Before my 25th birthday I had given birth twice more so was now the proud mother of three under-fives! My third child was also the one who thought sleeping was a waste of time – and that if she was awake, then I should be too! Six weeks after she was born her elder brother started school. And he hated it! Every morning was a battle to try and get him to the school gates; when we got there he had to be dragged kicking and screaming (literally) into the school by his teacher. Throw a 2 year-old into the equation who was still a 2 year-old into everything and you can see what life was like in our house – absolute chaos!
Luckily my Health Visitor referred me to Home Start and I can honestly say this changed my life. Not immediately and not in the way I was hoping or expecting, but life has since taught me that things often don’t turn out quite the way you expect! A volunteer visited me once a week for about 3 months and I realised that I wasn’t the only parent to feel like I couldn’t cope. Then the volunteer’s family circumstances changed and she couldn’t volunteer any longer. Home-Start offered to match me with another volunteer but I politely declined.
When my youngest child started school I decided to enrol on my local scheme’s volunteer preparation course. To my surprise I really enjoyed the course and learnt a lot about myself. I actually found visiting families much harder work and more emotionally draining than I expected it to be but continued to learn a great deal about myself and other people.
After six months I became the volunteer representative on the Management Committee and I soon found myself really enjoying this side of volunteering; over the next 2 years I threw myself into working for the committee and was eager to learn not just about Home-Start but about the voluntary sector in general.
The Chair of the scheme had to retire due to ill health. When it was suggested that I could be Chair my initial reaction was to laugh. However after consideration I decided to give it a go. It was a very steep learning curve but I learnt ‘on the job’. By now, my children were older and I was able to really throw myself into the role – and found myself thoroughly enjoying the challenge of leading the scheme. My three years as Chair flew by and I felt like a different person. Not only was I much more confident in my own abilities, I also felt I really understood what volunteering was all about. I now work in the voluntary sector supporting rural projects.
"I can honestly say that if it hadn’t have been for Home Start, the experience, the training, the support and not least the encouragement and belief they showed in me, then I would not be where I am today."
I first saw an advertisement in the local paper in June 2005 and was attracted to volunteering for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I felt I had learnt a lot, much of it the hard way since my two year old daughter was born. She had been a shock to my
nicely ordered thirty-something life. My baby was ill at birth and spent the first week of her life in SCBU. The shock was compounded by my husband starting a new job taking him all over the country, my own physical illness anda close bereavement. I struggled with my
feelings about motherhood and did not feel properly bonded with my daughter untilmuch later. Frankly I could have done with a Home-Start volunteer myself at this time.
Another reason for volunteering was my lack of confidence and feeling de-skilled. I also wanted to see if I could work in another area
from my previous professional life. Once the training was over I was thrilled to be matched with a refugee family. I was introduced to a young Sudanese mother and her one year old daughter. Aside from the language and cultural barriers, the mum was young and had suffered many traumas in her homeland. However, I soon got to know her, as her English was quite good and became known as 'Auntie' to her
daughter. My volunteering consisted of visiting them once a week at home for two hours and this included both practical and emotional help.
The work was challenging and very rewarding, but certainly never dull! There was often a crisis that seemed to present itself just as I arrived. Once mum had been duped into buying insurance she couldn't afford. I helped her get her money back. I supported mum with feeding, bathing and positive parenting. I tried to encourage her to play with her daughter although this was not the cultural norm. The child responded positively to everything she was exposed to and seemed bright and happy. Unfortunately, there was a child protection crisis and social services became involved. I would love to say it all worked out, but sadly the child was adopted in the end and after one year my support ended. However, I had learned some valuable lessons and that I carried into my present job.
I now work as a health trainer for the local Primary Care Trust, promoting healthy lifestyles. The training I had at Home-Start and the
awareness of community groups and resources that I gained meant that I was able to get my current post against stiff competition. This training was of an excellent quality and was delivered in an accessible, non-threatening and frequently entertaining way.
"I am unsure what my long term plans are, but working at Home-Start has inspired me to pursue a new career in health and social care."