On the 7th April 2018, its “World Health Day”. Evidence suggests that volunteering brings health benefits to both volunteers and the people that they help. We caught up with Sharon, who was voted ‘Volunteer of the Year’, from ASCEND to find out how volunteering has helped her.
Where do you volunteer and what does the organisation do?
I volunteer for ASCEND on a Tuesday and at Step-Up on a Thursday. ASCEND is a community based charity based in South Oxhey, an area nationally recognised as a regeneration district with social deprivation issues. Their work is all about moving people forward who have complex needs, which may include addiction, poor mental health and anxiety, challenging their perceived barriers to education and training. This provides people with more choice and control over their lives.
The project’s goal is to reduce the numbers of people in long-term poverty and to promote positive mental health in the Three Rivers’ area, by assisting them to gain employment or by providing support to manage their needs. It provides a drop-in facility and coffee bar for clients, training spaces for courses, interview rooms for counselling and guidance, and a workspace for staff and volunteers.
How did you get in to volunteering and what do you do?
At the time I was a service user at Resolving Chaos, where I was receiving 1:1 mentoring. They introduced volunteering to me and referred me to ASCEND. I volunteer on the reception desk, so complete tasks such as answering the phone, greeting visitors, and signing people in. I am the first person people come in to contact with. I understand that some people may be anxious, as I have had anxiety myself, so I try to make them feel as welcome as possible.
Have you gained any health or wellbeing benefits through volunteering?
I suffered from a brain injury, which led to a memory impairment and depression. Volunteering means that I am keeping my brain stimulated. I also get to meet a range of people. I used to be worried and get embarrassed about forgetting things, but I have definitely grown in confidence. Now I am always asking if anyone has a job that needs doing, even if it’s just an odd job, as it makes me feel useful.
Years ago, I used to have an eating disorder. When I’m alone at home, I have no one to eat with which means sometimes I don’t eat very well, however when I go in to volunteer, I always sit and each my lunch with staff and this encourages me to eat properly.
I can’t say how much volunteering has helped me. I used to get panicky but have grown in confidence. I took several overdoses in the past as I felt I had no purpose. Volunteering has given me a purpose. I know that I am needed on two different days at two different sites to help. It has helped to change my mind-set.
What would you say to someone else who was thinking about volunteering?
Definitely do it. The hardest step is getting your foot through the door. Mental ailments make it tough to take that first step, but I would encourage them to just go and ask. I cannot recommend volunteering enough; it’s so good to be doing something finally.
If someone else was interested in volunteering with ASCEND how would they find out more?
Get in touch with Elizabeth Green, the Volunteer Coordinator at ASCEND by phoning 0208 428 6725 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. There are many different things you can get involved in, including helping on reception with admin, chatting to clients, making tea and coffee to helping with our craft classes and on our allotment project. ASCEND works with individuals to identify a role that will work best for them and aims to reduce barriers where possible.