The importance of being supported as a volunteer.

26th November 2017

I volunteer with Samaritans – “people talk to us any time they like, in their own way – about whatever’s getting to them”. People might go to their local branch, they can email, text or call us, and our national number (116 123) is free. I recently had quite a bad experience on a night shift with a fellow volunteer who wasn’t supportive, and was in fact very rude, patronising and demeaning, and my more positive shift yesterday really made me realise the importance of having a support network as a volunteer.

I don’t want to go in to too much detail about the negative experience, mainly because I wrote a large email about it to the volunteer support team so feel as though that was my way of processing it. I was on with one other yesterday, and we did a 6pm-10pm shift at the branch. I was apprehensive coming in to branch because I didn’t recognise her name on the rota and was worried about having another awful experience! It’s often pot luck, because you’ll often meet new people and you just never know what they will be like and how that will effect the dynamic and atmosphere of the shift. Luckily, the lady was lovely. She was kind, thoughtful, funny, and encouraged discussion on the content of our responses in a way that put us both on an equal level. It really did make all the difference.

At the start of the shift I went straight on to texts and I felt tense. I was a bit shaky and flustered from walking there and I was conscious of the new person on shift with me who I didn’t know. But she soon made me feel at ease – she asked me if I wanted a drink, she asked how I’d like to start the shift and she said that we could swap around so I’m eventually doing some calls and she does texts, but she said “depending on how we both feel” and I realised then that she was laid back and wasn’t about imposing some kind of authority on to the shift like others have done.

At points we laughed about the content of some of her calls and I realised how important it was to have humour when we’re faced with emotionally demanding calls. By the way, we were laughing because they were misusing the service or didn’t understand the service, we weren’t laughing at other people’s expense. But anyway, having that interaction between us both where we felt comfortable communicating with each other during shift despite not having met before was really valuable and it made me feel a lot more relaxed.

Another thing that I really liked, was that she asked me for my opinion on a text that she wrote. Often I’m met with people being more experienced than I am and so they don’t tend to ask people with less experience about what they think, or ask them for advice and I was really glad that someone respected and valued my opinion like that. There wasn’t a sense of hierarchy that I’ve had before on shift. She had been there for 6 years and me just under 1, but I felt like we were on the same page, on an equal footing and that was vital. Again, having that support is so important, especially in an emotionally demanding role like this.

For anybody who volunteers out there or is considering this, don’t think that just because you don’t get paid that you don’t have any less right to be supported than somebody who is a staff member.

Thank you for all of your contributions, too.

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