Starfish Services Ltd has always worked closely with volunteers delivering our Social Hubs across the West Midlands and North East England. We are very proud of the fact that most of the volunteers in Starfish Stoke (Connecting Choices Project) are people who have been on the programme and then graduated into being a volunteer as part of their journey.
To become a volunteer, or as part of their journey in the social hubs, they take our Supporting People in Recovery OCN Course which gives them a Level 2 qualification, but equally importantly, during the 2 hour teaching sessions each week, they use their lived experience to understand how they can help other people on the programme as a volunteer.
As an organisation, we are assured that they understand the role they are taking on, it is no easy task to support people who are struggling with their mental and emotional health. Most importantly, they have learned how to use their lived experience of social anxiety, low self-esteem and poor emotional and mental health in a positive way to help others. There is absolutely nothing better than being able to say to a participant, “I can understand, I have been there, it happened to me but I have made my way through this and so can you.”
When we were able to run our face to face social hubs, the levels of anxiety experienced by participants who were newly referred, was sometimes off the scale. As staff, we had to manage the whole hub, sometimes as many as 20 – 25 people at a time plus run any activities, and it would have been impossible to support the needs of all the individuals as a single staff member. Knowing that you have two or three volunteers there who are trained to look out for new members, take them under their wing and support them whilst they settle in, is vital to a successful and smooth running hub. Equally someone else’s eyes and ears looking out for someone who may be going to have a panic attack or is having a meltdown because of something at home is important too and our volunteers recognise the signs because often, they have been there themselves.
Of course we know that our volunteers are still on their own journey. They are not whole and confident all of the time, and its very important for us to know that they trust they can say “I’m not so good this week, sorry, I can’t volunteer” and that we will say, “that’s fine, take the time you need for you, or come along as a member this week and let us look after you”. There is no judgement, just understanding that you need space, and assurance that you can take as long as you need.
In a nutshell, Starfish Stoke would not function without our volunteers, they are so important and each, in their own way, helps to make life a little better for those they come into contact with in our social hubs and now, our virtual hubs on Zoom. We hope they know how much they are valued by us. Their life experience, empathy, kindness, and compassion, coupled with an inexhaustible enthusiasm for helping others, makes our life as Starfish staff 100 times better every day. Thank you Starfish Volunteers. YOU ARE AMAZING!
We asked our volunteer Ashley Bunn to tell us a little about what it’s like to be a volunteer and you can see what he said below.
I’m Ashley 29, a volunteer for Starfish Social Hub since 2019. Born with Cerebral Palsy which limits my physical ability, but it never has stopped me doing what I’ve always set out to do. Anyone from the social hubs will tell you that I’m driven and determined as an individual as well as a volunteer. The reason I wanted to become a volunteer was to give something back and to help the participants maintain a positive outlook and to see smiles on their faces.
I was referred to Starfish through Groundworks as at the time they were my Connecting Choices work coach provider. At first I didn’t feel I needed to attend the social hubs and to be honest I very nearly didn’t as my social skills are decent on a day to day basis. My short time with Groundworks was excellent they understood myself and my condition really well, and if it wasn’t for Groundworks I wouldn’t have been a participant of the social hubs let alone a volunteer. Honestly being a volunteer for Starfish, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
My first few days as a volunteer at Starfish were interesting as I wanted to help the participants the best I could and I had an idea of how I was going to help, however I didn’t think the participants would want to hear my story and my personal experiences, how wrong was I? I started by mentoring the participants and helping them to settle into the day to day running of the social hubs. This included filling in paperwork with the participants, also making sure they were settled and helping them if they had any issues during their time in the social hub.
Moving forward Covid 19 affected us all in the social hubs, we decided to keep the hubs running online via zoom. I would honestly say that’s one of my proudest moments of being a volunteer as it was a huge challenge for us all, we all took it under our wings and simply turned it into something special. If it wasn’t for the zoom I don’t think I would be as close as I am as a friend to some of our participants. I’m also proud that I am able to run my own Evening Hub sessions every week night and even over Christmas and New Year, which I really do enjoy doing and think they are beneficial to the members who attend.
Furthermore I personally think volunteering is a fantastic opportunity to take up as it’s given me something to focus on, it’s made me less nervous about bigger occasions and it’s built my confidence up. I wouldn’t hesitate telling anyone in our hubs to become a volunteer as its brilliant and looks great on a CV.
Finally one of the benefits for me being a volunteer is it’s helped me to have a purpose in life again, the hubs and the participants have also helped me through really tough times and for that I thank them because they helped me to keep focused and keep going.
I hope this has been helpful and here’s to many more happy times as a starfish volunteer.