“I heard about the chance to support people leaving care through a volunteer recruitment website. I was particularly keen to work with Volunteers Supporting Families (VSF) because VSF was set up by Volunteering Matters as a response to Victoria Climbie. I felt that any contribution I could make to help prevent such an horrendous tragedy happening again was important and worthwhile.

I have worked in the City as a legal secretary for most of my career. I was able to volunteer for VSF for two hours a week, on a Monday after work. It made perfect sense as I was taking a Certificate in Counselling Skills and was studying in the evening.

The training was extremely professional, involving a group of people working together over the course of two days, which was led by Sue and Fiona.  They taught the value of sign-posting, which is a critical part of our volunteering, and also listening to and learning from each others’ experiences as many of us had relevant things to share.  We also learnt through role-playing different scenarios, and we heard from existing volunteers about what to expect, which was particularly useful.

After training has been completed, Sue or Fiona meet a potential family first, and then match the beneficiary with a volunteer. I met the family with Sue and quickly learnt that the family I was supporting had very serious problems to deal with. Several family members had severe mental health issues which presented challenges to the whole family, despite the family receiving help from social and health services.  They needed help in their day to day life with things such as: managing money; medication; understanding and accessing relevant (and much needed) benefits; help with Home Office Visa issues (which included contacting the family’s local MP to assist).

Every week I reported to Sue and her mental health team about the family’s progress. The purpose of my role was to provide a trusting environment in order to support the family in areas which had been agreed between: Social Services, VSF and the family.  The family were grateful for my support, but it was also important to me that I made it clear how much they had helped me too.  It is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

I am now doing an MSc in Counselling and Psychotherapy at Birkbeck College, University of London. I would not have been accepted onto the course without the volunteering experience of supporting a family with extreme mental health issues through VSF.  Having that experience was essential.  VSF and the family I worked with have been a vital part of my progression through my ongoing training as a therapist and I regard them with great fondness and appreciation”.