“Being able to work with some of Worcester's most disadvantaged people has given me a far greater understanding of just how fragile a 'normal life' can be. Almost all of the service users I have worked with were victims long before they were perpetrators of crime and this makes working with them feel like a duty. Some people may look at service users and see a tramp, an alcoholic or a drug addict. Because of my experience, I am able to see a victim of parental sexual abuse who had no choice but to flee his home, a woman who chose drink to numb the pain of her still-born baby and an ex-soldier with undiagnosed PTSD, who began taking drugs in an attempt to ease the guilt of his best friend's death on the battlefield.”

Read more from YSS volunteer Peter* who has been volunteering with YSS since 2016. This Volunteers’ Week he shares his story below.

Why I became a Volunteer 

I joined YSS as a volunteer in 2016 as a mentor. For about six months prior to that I had tossed around the idea of changing career as I was not happy in my job. I knew that I wanted to help people who were less fortunate than myself but beyond that, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. The six month time frame was likely a result of the real anxiety that comes with taking such a huge step. Even at the relatively young age of 28, making such a significant decision was extremely daunting and there was plenty of back-tracking during that period. 

Having finally made the decision, I felt the next step was to gain some experience of the 'social work' sector by volunteering. This would hopefully allow me to dip my toe in the water and gain valuable experience without naively jumping head first into something that I knew little about. I searched the internet for potential roles and came across YSS via the DO IT website. On reading through the articles on their website, YSS clearly had a good track record of offering interesting and exciting volunteer roles and moreover, much of their work focused on supporting people within the criminal justice system. I found this particularly interesting and was impressed that they had designated coordinators to support volunteers. Furthermore, I was excited by the idea of potentially working face to face with clients as I had not realised that this would be possible. YSS clearly took volunteering seriously! 

I registered my interest via email and was quickly contacted by YSS' Worcestershire Volunteer Coordinator. 

The Volunteering Recruitment Process 

Having made contact with a volunteer coordinator, it soon became clear that YSS had a robust process for recruiting volunteers. In fact, in many ways it was similar to the process of applying for a new job. I was expected to undertake a DBS check, complete an application form, and put forward the names of two people who would offer references for me. I was invited to a face-to-face interview which gave me the opportunity to articulate my reasons for volunteering and my current experience. It did not seem to matter that I had not volunteered before and that, at this stage, I knew little about the term 'safeguarding.' The interviewer was not looking for a right or wrong answer but was gauging what further knowledge I would need to help my personal development. 

I was invited to YSS' two-day mentor training programme which was delivered by two volunteer coordinators. The training was really worthwhile and allowed me to develop a range of skills such as effective communication, dealing with conflict and understanding the principles of Safeguarding. Furthermore it allowed me to think about what it meant to be a mentor, and to think about the difference between being someone’s mentor compared to being someone's friend. The training helped me to realise that I already had many of the personal attributes needed to be a successful mentor and really boosted my confidence. Having been on the training with ten other potential volunteers, it was also reassuring to know that any concerns or apprehensions about undertaking the role were shared by everyone else. By the end of the two days, most of my concerns had been discussed and dealt with. I felt ready to get started!

My Volunteering Experience

Joining YSS as a mentor gave me two key things. I was able to use the experience to ultimately build my CV and eventually change careers, and more importantly, it allowed me to experience, for the first time in my life, the feeling of being passionate about a cause whilst knowing that what I was doing was worthwhile - a feeling that I still experience when I meet up with my service users today.  

Being able to work with some of Worcester's most disadvantaged people has given me a far greater understanding of just how fragile a 'normal life' can be. Almost all of the service users I have worked with were victims long before they were perpetrators of crime and this makes working with them feel like a duty. Some people may look at service users and see a tramp, an alcoholic or a drug addict. Because of my experience, I am able to see a victim of parental sexual abuse who had no choice but to flee his home, a woman who chose drink to numb the pain of her still-born baby and an ex-soldier with undiagnosed PTSD, who began taking drugs in an attempt to ease the guilt of his best friend's death on the battlefield.  

Volunteering has been incredibly rewarding for me. As a mentor, my role is to empower a person to help themselves, not to do everything for them, and to that end, I cannot pretend that everyone succeeds in changing their lives. Similarly to the way it took me six months to change my life, many of my service users need several attempts to change their ways and some are not ready to change at all. When changes do take place they are often very small, but this has to be praised and encouraged. Practically, I have helped some of the most marginalised people in our society to find accommodation, work and have signposted them to drug and alcohol services. I have also supported them through physical and mental health issues and helped them engage with health services. 

If you’d like to find out more about becoming a volunteer with YSS, please click here to read about the latest opportunities or download an application form. To speak to a volunteer coordinator please contact [email protected].

*Indicates change of name to anonymise volunteer's identity.