‘ I likened leaving treatment to having just passed my driving test . You know how to go forwards , reverse and stop but you haven ’ t a clue how you ’ ll perform in a storm or on an icy road . You have a handbook , a phone and a boot full of tools – it ’ s just a case of working out which tools need to be used to weather a particular storm . My tool is volunteering ,’ she says . ‘ I applied to become a volunteer and was invited on a volunteering skills course , and since then my interest and involvement in supporting people has just kept on growing . There are three main things I ’ ve noticed about myself on my volunteering journey – my self-confidence has grown , I no longer attach the feeling of shame to being honest about how I ’ m feeling , and my empathic opinions through lived experience are listened to and valued . I take pride in saying that I ’ ve just been employed by Phoenix Futures – I ’ m not ashamed to say I put the phone down and shed a tear because I felt that my hard work , my recovery , and me as a person are worthwhile again .’
These stories and many others like them drive my passion for building on our offer for volunteers . The events over the past year highlight more than ever the value of creating new opportunities . At Phoenix we ’ re committed to nurturing our volunteering communities to reflect our passion for recovery .
Woosh Raza is head of human resources and learning and development at Phoenix Futures
A LEADING ROLE
Forward ’ s approach to volunteering has changed significantly over the past year , in response to the considerable challenges the pandemic has presented for our service delivery . Volunteering has always been a key part of our service offer , giving service users the opportunity to develop skills , build confidence and progress towards new , sustainable and productive careers . For example , we encourage people who ’ ve completed treatment to become peer mentors – they ’ re given accredited training to enable them to support those who are earlier in their recovery journeys and co-deliver programmes and interventions alongside frontline staff . Many progress to full-time paid work at Forward or other service providers . It was therefore important , both to the fulfilment of our mission and the delivery of our services , to ensure our volunteering programme continued to operate .
Our initial task was to ensure existing volunteers were supported effectively , in the face of the practical challenges of lockdown as well as its impact on volunteers ’ wellbeing . The second was to
Volunteers are a crucial part of The Forward Trust ’ s response to the challenges of the pandemic , says Valérie Ferretti
slow down recruitment of new volunteers while finding new ways they could engage in our services . In addressing these challenges , we ’ ve not only been able to continue providing meaningful and rewarding volunteering opportunities , but volunteers have also made a significant contribution to our new and adapted service offerings .
For example , volunteers now play a key role in our digital and remote service delivery . Peer support networks and groups are central to our substance misuse services , and the lockdown forced us to innovate rapidly to ensure they continued through digital channels . Volunteers led new peer support groups via Zoom , and helped to engage service users using the Kaizala messaging app . They were also recruited and trained to deliver our new online chat service alongside permanent staff , which was developed to provide advice and support to people concerned about their drug and alcohol use and related issues during the lockdown .
Interestingly , some of the barriers to volunteering that might be expected did not materialise .
‘ Many people who want to volunteer with us tend to be most interested in opportunities that involve face-to-face contact .’
For example , many people who want to volunteer with us tend to be most interested in opportunities that involve face-to-face contact . For obvious reasons , these became unavailable during lockdown , but this didn ’ t alter our volunteers ’ interest or commitment – we actually saw an increase in demand for volunteering , including from people in employment .
The pandemic also presented an opportunity to review , improve and diversify our volunteering opportunities , as well as induction and engagement processes . We now have a greater range of volunteer roles , including new mentors for our employment service clients and young offenders , befrienders and volunteers involved in adapting training materials for digital delivery . We ’ ve also improved our training and induction offer – we now provide training using a more varied range of media , including e-learning , Zoom and online workbooks , giving volunteers more options . In addition , volunteers report feeling more connected to each other , and have built relationships with staff and other volunteers they wouldn ’ t usually have encountered in faceto-face settings – these positive changes are here to stay .
The pandemic has really brought home the importance of volunteers in everything we do . I ’ ve been struck not only by the unfailing demand from people wanting give up their time to support us but their immense commitment and passion . It ’ s been a rollercoaster of a year but , thanks to our volunteers and the changes we ’ ve had to implement , it ’ s also been a fantastic time for volunteering . It ’ s enabled us to move forward and demonstrate our ability to respond rapidly and adapt .
Valérie Ferretti is recovery support team leader at The Forward Trust
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