Grace, from Greenwich, Southeast London, is a volunteer helping support families at Home-Start Southwark. Here, she shares her experience of what a day in the life of her volunteer work is like:
I was motivated to join Home-Start Southwark as a family support volunteer by my own experience as a parent. I had Home-Start services help me with my daughter. I was a single parent, and my child was born with a chronic disability. Having the Home-Start volunteer drop by every week opened up our little world.
A typical day in my role as a Home-Start volunteer begins with me attending the home of a chosen family at a pre-decided time and day every week. Home-Start assigns me a family by matching volunteers to families they have to support. The initial meeting with a family is normally in their home or close to their home. In terms of preparations, I make before meeting a family – I talk with the Family Coordinator when they have a family ready for me to visit.
The sort of activities I do with the families depends. Some parents want to go to appointments with my support. Some parents want to go out to the park. Some parents want to mainly stay at home and play, talk, reduce isolation.
The Covid lockdowns of recent years did affect how I support the families, but we adapted – the short answer is – ZOOM! Me and my cat Kashmir conducted weekly zooms with mum at the time and baby. We even had a tea party complete with balloons and cat food!
Parents had the option between speaking on the phone every week or having a zoom meeting. We tended to start out on the phone and then adapt to zoom meetings. It was emotional meeting when we could for the first time. When we were all allowed out again, we went to the park A LOT!
The type of support I offer to families is emotional support and a listening ear, to reduce isolation, that in turn improves confidence and mental health. And, to provide practical support in the home that increases the children’s physical, social and emotional development.
Occasionally, I draw on my own personal life experience to support the families when the time is right and by observing my own personal boundaries.
To end the sessions is a process: In the beginning of the meeting in the first few meetings I’ll remind them when the time is coming to a close. We meet for up to six months. Parents like to tell the children too sometimes if they are old enough to understand. And then we’ll naturally talk about what we will do next time we meet.
I receive a great deal of support from Home-Start Southwark in terms of feedback and how to support the families. As volunteers, we can email, ring them weekly to discuss things. There are drop-in volunteer workshops where volunteers can meet each other and share experiences. There are training sessions throughout each month. And you, the volunteer, can select what you need/want to learn to support your family. There is also a yearly celebration with all volunteers and staff a chance to get together and share experiences.
I’d choose the highlight for me of all the times I’ve offered support to families along the way, as when I went to a Punch and Judy show by the Cutty Sark Boat in Greenwich with a nine-month-old baby and mum during half-term. I found out that not only was it the baby’s first time going to such an English show (they’re from China), but it was the mum’s first time, and she was thrilled. And she said she would come again and again. It made me feel emotional in a good way, very happy. The mum has had a long arduous journey struggling against mental health difficulties bravely.
When reflecting on the most rewarding part of being a Home-Start volunteer I’d say: Where to begin?! Families open up their lives and invite you into their journey wherever they are at, which is an honour. It’s a real position of trust.
There is some straightforward administration needed to be done after meeting a family: You have a volunteer diary sheet form to complete each time you visit with the family. It is quite brief details and activities noted. Then you have a supervision with the Family Coordinator in 6-8 weeks’ time after you start with the family. It is to discuss the support the family is receiving and how things are going for you. It is very friendly.
I would say to other people thinking of possibly volunteering with Home-Start Southwark to support families, that if it’s something you are drawn to, do give it a go. There’s a volunteer preparation course that’s free to attend that will really set you up for the task. There’s a real open communication and often friendship with the Family Coordinators. It’s not a daunting experience, it’s very rewarding. It’s normally two hours per week to support each family. And once you get into the swing of it, it becomes easier.
When I was nominated for a volunteer award with Home-Start, it made me laugh with surprise! I’ll have to trust the team because I still don’t feel worthy of it. I enjoy supporting so much that I’d do it with or without awards, but an award is a real plus.
To Be Continued….
Author: Polly Morgan