After finishing my A-levels I did a one-year placement with what was then Community Service Volunteers (CSV), but now is Volunteering Matters. I didn’t want to go to university straight away, but wanted a break from studying and the chance to learn new skills and experience something different. I also hoped to get an idea of what I might want to do next and as a career. The fantastic thing about the CSV placement was that accommodation was provided, together with a small amount of money to live on. This was a godsend for someone like me. I’d left home at 16 and was independent and self-supporting, so I was never going to be able to do a traditional gap year.
My main role in the placement was working on the Schools Concern project in Dundee. The aim was to visit primary schools and run sessions that would help children understand more about physical disability. Some of this was done through simulation exercises, giving children the opportunity to experience a little bit of what it can be like to live with a visual impairment, or to use a wheelchair.
By far the best bit of the project was introducing the disabled speakers to the children. The speakers gave inspiring talks about their experience of living with a disability. The children loved hearing what the speakers could do, and about some of the useful adaptations and gadgets that helped them. I’m sure that the insights the children gained will last them a lifetime.
I was also involved in other projects during my time with CSV: a Gingerbread group for lone parents, social groups for young people with physical and learning disabilities and other youth groups. I loved working with the team based at Adler Community Centre, and I loved Dundee life – in spite of the cold!
The placement really set me up for the career that I’m in now. I studied psychology and sociology at university and carried on volunteering while studying. My first full-time job was as a volunteer co-ordinator with a wildlife trust, and I’ve stayed working in the voluntary sector ever since. My experience with CSV gave me a taste of work that felt it was really making a difference, and I’ve never wanted to work in any other field.
I’ve since worked for a youth homelessness charity, as Head of Volunteering for the National Autistic Society, Deputy CEO of a Council for Voluntary Services and CEO of a local Mind. My current job is CEO of Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice. I love working here: I love the passion and commitment of the staff, volunteers and trustees working together to support children and families, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for the experience I gained with CSV.
*Photo credit to Antony Oxley Photography. This photo is a recent photo of Claire taken with a young boy who was involved with the charity she is now CEO of, Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice.