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Why I Volunteer – First Hand Stories

“People are key to my life”

“It’s great to make a difference, however small it may feel”

“It helps to build new relationships and increases my own knowledge of what’s going on in my own community

Read our Q&A with 3 volunteers from Suffolk Family Carers

We met for Elevenses: volunteers Joyce, Sue and Bev, together with Heather Venables, Volunteer Development Manager.

If you are reading this as a would-be volunteer you perhaps think, do I have the skills? Am I good enough for a new role helping others? – The answer is Yes! You Can Do It: it’s quite easy and only takes an hour or two – some roles can be done on the telephone so you can do it anywhere!

What is your role?

My role is in the Talk and Support service.  I phone a family carer every two weeks, in their own home, and I listen and chat about any concerns or worries they have. It gives carers the space to talk about their concerns, and to let off steam – it is important to be “actively” listening – it’s okay to have a pause in the conversation too. It gives a carer the opportunity to offload – to me – the difficulties they are clearly are experiencing by caring for a family member.

To volunteer on the phone service the main requirement is to be a good listener.  When first making a call, you can make your voice bright and later on, when the call is ending you end on a positive note – perhaps getting the carer to confirm what they are going to be doing to make sure they care for themselves too.

I give 6 hours a week in a varied range of ways: First I help the Neuro Diversity Project Team.  As a volunteer I provide admin support to the ND advisers and project manager – for example updating the database.  I also work with the young carers team once a month to run a drop-in-session: it is facilitated by an advisor and is as much a peer-support-group. Yesterday I helped with a presentation at a community centre: ‘How to look after yourself’.

What are the best bits of being a volunteer? How has volunteering helped you personally?

People are key in my life; I like face to face interaction.  I offer practical as well as emotional support.  When I retired, I started at a small family support charity, then a foodbank for 3 years and now Suffolk Family Carers.  I came from a role in the care industry and am really interested in mental health.  Everyone is so welcoming at Suffolk Family Carers; you get to know the people instantly.  Gives me a purpose and increases self-esteem and confidence.

I volunteer out of a mix of altruism and selfishness!  To help others and help myself. I had experience of caring for two people close to me – one had Parkinson’s & Dementia, the other terminal lung cancer.  The GP said to get in touch with Suffolk Family Carers.  I did and went to a ‘Confidence Workshop’.  When my husband died, I went from having 4 carer visits a day to none.  I saw roles on the Suffolk Family Carers newsletter and 3 months later was volunteering.  I use my experiences, it gives structure and purpose, a reason to get out of the house.  Volunteering has helped me enormously: particularly as you get older it’s very easy to feel you don’t matter and that you have no opportunity to communicate going forward It’s been great to be able to use my own experience of looking after my own husband as his carer and, it has been very helpful for me to use that experience for something positive, it is almost his legacy to me that I can go forward and help others.

Near the end of a support call you can hear a real difference in the tone of the caller’s voice, she may be upbeat with plans to do A, B and C.  If I can get someone laughing, then I know I have made a connection, it’s good feeling that you have made a difference to a carer during a stressful time in their lives.  In being able to support others you are giving something back to the local community.  It is very satisfying to know that I’ve made a difference to someone else’s life other than my own, it helps to build new relationships and increases my own knowledge of what’s going on in my own community and what carers needs.

How much time is involved?

As much as I want.  From a couple of hours to 6 hours (talking to 4 people across an afternoon) – this can be remote from home or can be at the Suffolk Family Carers offices in Claydon.

Some support services such as Talk & Support run for a fixed period – 6 months, the user is told there is a limited time and a review.

Once a month 2 hours hosting tea/coffee/chat and 1 hour every 2 weeks talking on the telephone.

How are you supported by a Volunteer Manager?

Yes each service has a manager – for Talk and Support they initially match volunteer experiences and activities with the service users.  There are regular emails and catch ups and feedback is given face to face.  I know I can phone the hub anytime.

The training provided by Suffolk Family Carers is excellent: induction, and role specific training for example Listening Skills, Bereavement Support, they’re always open to suggestions and we’re able to talk to other volunteers.  There’s the opportunity for ongoing training too.

Do you volunteer anywhere else?

Yes reading to children – helping in a nursery and this Christmas distributing 500 books from charity shops.  Reading to 3 years olds is pure bliss.

Yes I’m also a school reader.

Yes I support a homeless charity through fundraising.

Why would you recommend volunteering?

It is an important part of your own well being – there is a term ‘ageing well’ and Volunteering helps in learning new skills and making social contact.

Many volunteers are retired, and when you ‘stop-working’ you can fell you lose recognition and a job title.  People ask What do you do?  In Volunteering you use the skills you have gained over a lifetime, and it becomes part of your identity.

In a grim world, when the TV news is overwhelming, by volunteering you are doing your small bit to fix things. It’s very satisfying to know you have made a difference.  Builds new relationships, increases your knowledge about carers.

It’s great to be able to make a difference, however small it may feel.

How do people find out about volunteering opportunities?

I found out about Suffolk Family Carers through our local library – I thought ‘I can do that!’

To find out more about Suffolk Family Carers please contact [email protected]

To find out more about a wide range of current volunteering vacancies please visit the free website

Thank you to all our interviewees – we have combined responses to maintain confidentiality.