Volunteer management, Personal development

How to become a volunteer #VolunteersWeek

In support of #VolunteersWeek we've heard from Dean Renshaw, Senior Researcher at DSC on how the process of getting into volunteering during the pandemic.

What do I do?

In May, I started volunteering with the Open Door Charity and began the training process to become a mentor. The Open Door Charity is based in Birkenhead on the Wirral, and offers a holistic range of services for its members, which are all free and there are no waiting lists. They’re now one of the largest independent sources of talking therapies in Merseyside.

One of the services they offer is Bazaar, which blends elements of CBT and mindfulness for young people and young adults aged 15-30 to better understand their own mental health. Mentors are an important part of services like this, and they make sure that any support is unique and built around shared lived experiences.

They have their own campus in Birkenhead, with the biggest building being the Bloom Building, and it’s definitely worth taking a look at their website to see what an amazing space it is. They even hold events, and their upcoming events show there’s a range of things to do, such as yoga and open mic nights.

How did I find it?

I had been in touch with them a few years ago to see if there was an opportunity to volunteer. I had just come out of my job working for a massive company, so I had time on my hands. Unfortunately, that job was one of the worst environments I had ever experienced (even though the team I was in were some of the loveliest people in the world). I already had my own struggles with mental health, but the stress and pressure from working for a company that, to be quite honest, doesn’t care about you, made it even worse. By the time I heard back from them, I had to turn the opportunity down because my own mental health had deteriorated so severely.

And then in February 2021, DSC was involved in the #RightNow campaign to send a message to the government that charities need an Emergency Support Fund. I wanted to send a tweet out to highlight some of the great charities on the Wirral, and the Open Door Charity immediately came to mind. I got in touch with them through their website, and a trainer got back to me to tell me more about how I could become a peer mentor.

What was the training like?

At first it was scary! I’m not great with new people, so it’s a bit scary for me talk to lots of new people, but within about five minutes that fear had eased, and I was surrounded by loads of great people, from all sorts of different backgrounds and experiences, who were really eager to help.

The training will take nine hours in total over three sessions, and then I’ll be able to start in my role as a peer mentor. It can be a lot of time to add on to your day, but if you’re working around mental health, it’s important to be properly trained for anything that can come up, and it’s useful to know more about different topics in mental health.

At the end of the training, we did a five-minute mindfulness exercise, which is also used in some of the services offered. It’s not something I’d done before; I usually prefer to keep myself busy so I don’t get left alone with my thoughts, but this was so calming and helpful, I can’t wait to try it again.

How much time will I be able to give?

Time is always a problem for me. I work full time in a job that can be incredibly busy, so trying to find some time in the week that I could give up to volunteer was always going to be a challenge. But at DSC, we’re working a four-day week, in which we work our usual hours that used to be over five days in four. This means that I’ve now got a three-day weekend every single week, and even though the amount of time I spend working hasn’t changed, it certainly feels like I’ve got a lot more time.

This was really important for this role – I couldn’t have volunteered here without having each Friday off because of the schedules of the programmes offered by the Open Door Charity.

We also have a policy at DSC where we can volunteer for up to half a day each month, which has been really helpful for me because it means I can use that leave to attend training and for anything else that might pop up.

The programmes are available from 12pm -5pm on weekdays, so I hope I can use my Friday afternoons to volunteer for this amazing charity.

What tips would I give to someone who wants to start volunteering?

The first step is getting in touch with a charity or organisation that you’re interested in. This is the hardest part, and it can always feel a bit awkward to ask if there’s anything available, but don’t forget that there are charities all over the country that really want you there! The time you’re giving them is really valuable.

Find something you’re really interested in. You’ll be giving up your time to do this, so it’s important to be doing something that you really care about. For me, that’s mental health, but it could be absolutely anything as long as you care about it.

Try and see if you can find out what’s happening with charities in your area on Twitter. I live on the Wirral, so I follow Community Action Wirral (@ActionOnWirral) which highlights some of the great charities in my area, and their website lists some of the opportunities available. Your local council’s website may also list some of the volunteering opportunities that are available right now.

Give it a go! A certain volunteering position might not work well for you, and that’s fine. Alternatively, you may meet some really interesting people, do some really amazing things and learn useful skills, but you’ll never know unless you try.

Finally, if you decide to go with it and volunteer somewhere, never forget what you’re doing. You could be doing anything at all, like monitoring bat populations or visiting children in a hospice, so you’re adding that extra bit of kindness into the world that we all sorely need right now. To quote Frank Turner, the greatest songwriter of the 21st century: ‘be more kind, my friends. Try to be more kind’.