Digswell Arts Trust are a small charity with a board of trustees who are all volunteers. Some of the trustees are very hands on and involved with the day to day running of the studios, and the board meets four times a year. Amanda Bloom tells us how she juggles the responsibility of volunteering in Hertfordshire at an arts organisation.
Where do you volunteer and for how long have you been doing it?
I volunteer for two organisations, Family Lives and Digswell Arts Trust. They are both quite different organisations, and I hold different roles in each. I started volunteering for Family Lives over seven years ago. It is a national family support charity providing help and support on all aspects of family life. Digswell Arts Trust is a charity that for over 60 years, has supported emerging artists by providing studios and support for artists, some of whom have gone on to become masters in their field.
How did you get in to volunteering and what do you do?
My background is in art and psychotherapy. After moving out of London some years ago, I was looking for something that would fulfil both of my interests. I saw an advert on do-it.org for Family Lives asking for people to train to work for their National Helpline as a volunteer, and was excited to start work with them. My role as a call taker is primarily to listen to whatever issues may come up from the caller. It can be about any aspect of family life, from child development to mental health, or any other aspects of daily life. I offer confidential, non-judgemental support and advice and often just having someone to talk to helps the caller move forward with their issue.
My involvement with Digswell Arts started 6 years ago when I was offered a studio at their building in Letchworth Garden City. The Fenners Building was a new project for the trust, so I was involved with helping set it up and had my own artist’s studio there for 5 years (which is the maximum time that artists are given a studio). At the end of my Fellowship (which is what the artists are called), I was thrilled when they asked me to become a trustee. My role includes looking for and interviewing new artists and looking after Fellows’ welfare across our two sites at Digswell and Letchworth.
What do you enjoy about your volunteer role, how does it benefit you?
As I already had a background in psychotherapy, I already felt confident in talking to people but I had never worked on a phone line, and the training at Family Lives was excellent. What surprises me the most about this role is the complete range of issues that you deal with in one session. I never know who or what I am going to answer the phone to, and sometimes the issues can be extremely challenging, but the support team are always there to help if you need them. You can tell when you have really been able to help someone and there is great satisfaction when this happens, but often there is frustration too with the difficulties that people face in their daily lives.
With Digswell Arts, I especially love finding new artists and meeting them at the interview stage. Again, you don’t know what work they are going to bring and I am constantly surprised at the creativeness and diversification of what we see. It is particularly exciting when you see an artist who you feel has great potential and is just starting out on their creative journey. Being able to offer them a studio and support from the creative community is very satisfying, and I love watching them develop and move forward with their work.
What difference are you making by volunteering?
I would like to feel that I make a difference as a volunteer in both my roles. My children have almost left home now, so I feel that it is a good time to be giving something back to society, and I am lucky that I have two different roles that fulfil my creative and community side.
If someone was interested in finding out more about the organisations you volunteer for how could they get in touch?
Training at Family Lives takes place at their offices in Hatfield and more information can be found on the website. Training usually runs over four weekends or weekdays and is a great way to find out if this is a suitable role for you. You don’t need to have any particular background, the training will give you everything you need to know, so if you feel that you are a good listener, able to be empathetic and caring and have worked with families or have a family yourself, then contact SueBe@familylives.org.uk for more information.
Digswell Arts have two studio buildings in Letchworth Garden City and Digswell. They are always looking for more trustees, so if you have a particular interest in the arts or other skills which could be useful to the organisation, you can get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.