‘When I graduated from university almost 7 years ago, as a very immature 22 year-old, I was faced with a couple of conundrums.

  1. There seemed to be no graduate jobs which did not require some kind of professional experience
  2. Even if there were – I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life!

After what felt like hundreds of failed job applications, it was time to take a step back. Using what I loved (sport and being a big kid) and what mattered to me (making a positive difference) as a starting point, I looked into doing some volunteering after I graduated.

The Volunteering Matters North Lanarkshire Befriending Project seemed like the perfect fit – little did I know that getting in touch would change my life immeasurably for the better.

The recruitment process and training was of an excellent standard. Project staff were supportive and made you feel valued. Every step of the way everything was explained – no prior knowledge or experience was needed, just enthusiasm and commitment. By the time the project had identified a young person for me to work with based on my character and preferences, I felt ready (if a little apprehensive). Upon meeting my young person and their family with project staff, however, I felt immediately relaxed and excited for what lay ahead.

I met up with my young person once a fortnight for 12 months and together we took part in activities such as swimming, football, badminton and laser quest. I was surprised at how easy I found establishing a trusting relationship built on fun and respect with him, and as the months went on this became stronger and more secure – we had a great laugh together.

My young person was isolated, had low self-esteem and a negative peer group and as a result was getting into trouble in school and the community. I was to act as a role model for him, helping him to identify some positives in his life and to build on these, as well as providing some simple time out from difficult circumstances at home. For him, just ‘being there’ was enough.

It was pleasing to see first-hand the difference befriending can make – within a few months my young person seemed more confident, felt better about himself and his behaviour at school and in the community had improved dramatically. Feedback from staff, social work and family was also positive and great to hear – who would have thought that something so simple, easy and enjoyable could make such a big difference?

At only a few hours per fortnight, I thought the commitment of this role was both manageable and flexible. Reporting back regularly to project staff was simple, and the process made me feel valued, successful and part of a team.

At the time of my first match after I graduated. I was working in a sales job – 40 hours a week at a desk. Although I liked to do well in that job, at the end of the day I was only making a rich person richer. Volunteering as a befriender gave me a sense of satisfaction and reward that no desk job ever could – giving your time to someone who just needs a pal is an amazing gift, and one that a young person will remember forever.

I was lucky enough to subsequently befriend another young person in my time with the project, as well as working for four privileged and amazing years as a member of staff. During that time, I saw countless lives changed for the better through the power of volunteering. I will tell anyone who will listen that mine has been one of them.’

If Ross’ story has inspired you to volunteer, we have programmes running across the UK with something for everyone. In February 2018 we launched Clackmannanshire Befriending Project which is running nearby to the programme Ross worked on. If this sounds up your street, get in touch!