My story: from volunteer to member of staff
12 June 2017

My story: from volunteer to member of staff - a personal blog by Hannah Touhey

It’s national volunteers week and whilst it’s an excellent opportunity to celebrate our amazing volunteers it’s also a chance for me to reflect on my own journey as a volunteer and the role it has played in my recovery.

I began volunteering in 2013 following a year of severe mental illness during my final year of University. I had spent the year in and out of Hospital, being passed around services with little support and it wasn’t until I attended a day Hospital in Buckingham that I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and offered treatment.

I (miraculously) graduated with a 2:1 and returned home feeling better but not exactly great. I had gone from being a straight A student with a host of meaningless school awards to someone who struggled to read a magazine or make eye contact with a cashier.

I was both apathetic and frustrated; there is only so much Loose Women you can watch before daytime TV becomes monotonous but anything which required commitment or even the tiniest level of focus seemed beyond me.

I decided volunteering would be a good place to start as it would provide me with flexibility and an opportunity to build on a CV that was starting to look worryingly barren and was probably milking those school awards a little too much.

I began volunteering an hour week doing the least demanding admin physically possible in the Voluntary Services department and suddenly my life had a focal point. I could just about tolerate another episode of Loose Women when I knew I would go in to volunteer on a Wednesday.

It was only an hour and the support I actually offered was probably minimal but for me coming in and talking to people and having a purpose was hugely meaningful. That first day I was so nervous I vomited over my bicycle on the way in and for the first four weeks I refused to make a cup of tea in case I used someone’s milk, I was hugely self-conscious and attempted to make myself invisible. Gradually however my confidence grew and I began to settle, I did mind blowing things like make a cup of tea and asking how someones day was and I expanded the types of work I was doing to things which required more focus and effort.

Over time I increased the hours until I was volunteering part time and much more involved in the service. I got to email volunteers, help set them up and help to change processes, my input was valued and the role I was doing felt meaningful. Boundaries were always maintained so that I could get creative and stuck in but never felt pressured and this combination allowed me to flourish.

I was passionate about the work we were doing and felt strongly about the volunteers because I was one, I could see the impact volunteering could have because I saw it in myself.

In 2016 I became a fully fledged member of staff and I wore my ID badge like it was a badge of honour, which I guess in some ways for me it was. The transition from volunteering to paid employment is not necessary for everyones recovery but for me it felt like an important step towards living a life that was not dominated by my mental health.

Being involved in something I feel passionate about is important to me not just because of its benefits to the Trust and community but because it is exactly what I would have done had I not become unwell.

The reason I have chosen to share my story is that I strongly believe we need to stop viewing volunteers as an addition to our workload and view them as an opportunity to exercise the Trusts commitment to recovery.

Each volunteer will require supervision and support, some more than others, but the life experience and passion they bring should not be dismissed. These are people who have chosen to dedicate their free time to a cause that feels meaningful to them, what an amazing asset that can be when we choose to tap into it.

For many volunteering, as it was for myself, is a brave attempt at rebuilding a life and it is vital that we honour that bravery by welcoming them in to the Trust and offering them support and kindness.

I hope that National Volunteers week provides an opportunity for teams to reflect on how they can include volunteers in their services and extend the concept of recovery to not just our service users but to the community as a whole.

Ends

Views of any CPFT bloggers are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust

For more information please contact:

Andy Burrows
Media and Marketing Manager
E andy.burrows@cpft.nhs.uk
T 07893 340795

 

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

T 01223 219400 (open 8:30am to 5pm)
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