Volunteering a listening ear

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I moved to Manchester after losing every part of my life in the 2008 recession.

Isolation took over as I battled with a chronic illness for many years, but with the help of my GP, who is my biggest advocate, I worked on bringing myself back into society. It was my Salford based GP who recommended I approach Salford CVS when I mentioned that I wished to start volunteering so that I can begin to reconnect with working life.

I wanted to be useful, and the unprecedented situation with Covid-19 certainly provided ample opportunities to help within the community once I was able to venture outside again. The Salford CVS website had lists of various roles both within and external to their organisation. I applied and was accepted as a volunteer at the local vaccination centre. The role comprised of holding brief wellbeing conversations with people who had come to have their vaccine administered, which I was given training and constant support.

Understandably, the unique situation of dealing with a pandemic had manifested in individuals as anxiety, isolation, and a feeling of being overwhelmed with having to restructure their lives to a new normal. Subsequently, a listening ear was welcomed by everyone I spoke with. People of all ages from various walks of life, each with their own sets of views, priorities, and perspectives on the current situation.

“How are you, really?”

Individuals looking after vulnerable loved ones at home in complete isolation, school teachers anxious about the re-opening of schools, public sector workers who were keeping services alive for their communities, retail workers still dealing with the public, they all needed to be asked “How are you, really?”. It's amazing to see how much we can open up to strangers with a friendly face when someone genuinely makes the effort to find out how you are coping with a difficult situation. In the first few hours of working there were two interactions with individuals that really stood out.

The first was with a plasterer working with different building crews, who even after having received the vaccine was uncertain about what it consisted of. With a background in cancer research I was able to explain how the vaccine was constructed and how it would be beneficial in this instance, which eased his anxiety considerably. He went on to vocalise his appreciation of the time and care we had taken as volunteers to talk to people and even remarked how unlikely it would have been for a plasterer and a scientist to be having a conversation in normal circumstances. This made me realise how important it is to reach out to people of every background and how an organisation like Salford CVS allows you to connect the expertise of volunteers to people in need. Had I not applied for this voluntary opportunity then the gentleman would most likely not have had a conversation with a scientist.

Providing some solace

The second memorable and impactful interaction was with a lady who had left her family in Spain in order to make a life and provide opportunities for her son here in the UK. Unfortunately, during the first few months of the pandemic her mother back in Spain had started to exhibit symptoms of dementia. On asking her about how she was coping with the Covid-19 situation she instantly burst into tears, so I sat myself down on the floor in front of her whilst our Eccles team coordinator brought us tissues to wipe away the fast flowing tears. I could tell this lady needed to cry out her stress and worries so I listened whilst trying to provide a safe space for her to express her concern that she was not able to visit her mother and was afraid that by the time she could, her mother may not even recognise her. I used this opportunity to show empathy to a person in need of comfort and solace and through this voluntary position had made a small difference in someone’s life.

A sense of purpose

The work we were doing and the care we were showing as a team even inspired others into asking about how and where they can volunteer. It made me feel proud that our community spirit still exists, and that people are often willing to step up when needed. For me, volunteering was just supposed to be a way of flexing some professional skills that I had not used in a long time but the opportunity with Salford CVS has given me much more; a sense of purpose, the confidence to talk to strangers with a variety of points of view and the opportunity to part of a supportive team.

Have you been inspired to volunteer?

We're looking for Trusted Voices Champions to support communities in Salford by sharing official health information and coronavirus guidance and Wellbeing Champions. Find out more.

You can also search for local volunteering opportunities via our Volunteering Portal.

Salford CVS
Author: 
Simah, Covid Response Volunteer

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5 Irwell Place 
Salford, M30 0FN

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Email: office@salfordcvs.co.uk

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Salford CVS is the city-wide infrastructure organisation for the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector; providing specialist information, advice, development support and opportunities for influence and collaboration.

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