Did you know that the International Day of Happiness fell on 20th March this year?

Discovering this factoid got me questioning, just what is the best route to positive physical and mental wellbeing?

According to a new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, being outdoors dramatically lowers stress levels and boosts mental health. In fact, although it may be the last thing you actually feel like doing when you’re feeling down, studies show exercise boosts productivity, eases insomnia by means zzzquil on dreamsandpillows.com and improves general health. Furthermore, being a volunteer can make us feel satisfied with life, it reduces the risk of depression and therefore can reduce the risk of premature death. All of which suggests that outdoor, active volunteering is hugely beneficial for the individual. For this reason, I made contact with a couple of organisations involved in conservation and the environment to get a taste of the types of opportunities available, and to take a look at what the positive benefits of this type of volunteering are for those who participate.

John is a volunteer with the Tyne Rivers Trust, an environmental charity that works with people and communities to protect and enhance the River Tyne and its tributaries. As a volunteer he undertakes his work on average every 10 days, and has taken part in many activities both on the river bank and within the catchment area of the charity. John said his role has involved, tree planting and removal of tree guards and stakes, pruning willow, scrub clearance burning, and litter picking. He has cleared ponds, removed invasive plant species, cleared paths and helped create coir dams (whatever they are!). John has constructed a grass snake hibernaculum, helped repair a weir and dismantled and removed a livestock drinking water system.

completed willow work (2) Tyne rivers trust body of article 8.5.2018

Unlike some charities and organisations, which require volunteers to commit to a set number of days or times, the Tyne Rivers Trust sends an email to volunteers each month listing the volunteer day dates, times, locations and tasks. The volunteers are then free to choose which days they wish to attend. John likes the flexibility of this process because, like many other people, he is busy with other activities and is not always free to attend pre-specified days.

John revealed that as his father was a farmer he grew up with plenty of experience of outdoor work. In fact, he went on to study Agriculture and Economics at college. Subsequently, John spent his career working as a Business Consultant in the farming, horticultural, primary food processing and renewable energy sectors, both within the UK and overseas.

Following his retirement however, and following a move from Hampshire to Northumberland, to live closer to his son and family, he decided to do some outdoor voluntary work to partly replace his previous working life.

John said he found out about the role with Tyne Rivers Trust when he attended a festival in Hexham and walked past their stall which had information about the organisation and their volunteer opportunities. He had a talk with the Tyne Rivers Trust Volunteer Co-ordinator who was running the stall and decided that it would be an ideal opportunity for himself.

“I expected to undertake outdoor work with other volunteers, to make improvements to the Tyne River Catchment Area”, and he wasn’t disappointed. The reality lived up to his expectations and “my impressions were good following my first few volunteering days”. Indeed, he said he feels valued and “the Tyne Rivers Trust staff and volunteers are all friendly and made me feel very welcome”. According to John the Trust is also a very social organisation and to show appreciation they regularly organize events for the volunteers, such as “a visit to the Kielder Salmon Hatchery and a Christmas social evening at the pub!” John feels that although he had skills to begin with he has also developed new ones because “I’ve undertaken and enjoyed practical tasks which I had not previously experienced” He said he feels supported by the Tyne Rivers Trust Volunteer Co-ordinator, who always works with them on each task, giving instruction about what needs to be done. The Trust provide transport in their trucks from their offices at Stagshaw Bank near Corbridge, to the sites where voluntary work is to be completed, or they reimburse travel expenses when volunteers use their own cars.

John said he feels there are a variety of positives to volunteering for Tyne Rivers trust. They include:

  • Meeting, working with and enjoying the company of new people
  • Working in the beautiful Northumberland countryside
  • Making real improvements to the Tyne River Catchment Area
  • Undertaking voluntary work on tasks such as tree planting, I am saving the Tyne Rivers Trust the cost of employing a person to do this work, thereby assisting its financial viability
  • Benefiting from exercise and fresh air
  • Obtaining a sense of purpose and achievement

Given such a list of positive experiences then, is it any wonder that involvement in such activities has a positive effect on our emotions and mental/physical wellbeing?

 

My next post will look at other benefits of environmental volunteering, but this time I’ll be chatting to someone who protects and cares for the Northumberland coastline.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with the Tyne Rivers Trust then why not check out their web site at http://www.tyneriverstrust.org/support-us/volunteering/

Alternatively you can visit Northumberland CVA database where you will find a huge variety of volunteering opportunities available www.northumberlandcva.org.uk

 

Following on from my previous post regarding the improved wellbeing of outdoor volunteers, the subject got me thinking about the social and ecological benefits of environmental volunteering too!

We are lucky in Northumberland, to live in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and some might say that with such a blessing comes a responsibility. Our coastline faces a number of challenges from coastal erosion to the impact of invasive species, as well as the increased pressure from humans. Indeed, the human pressure involves large volumes of rubbish and waste plastic being discharged in to the environment, particularly plastic that makes its way into our sea!

National Geographic estimated that there are 5.2 trillion pieces of trash in our oceans and in a BBC News article (6th May 2018) entitled ‘Fishing nets and false teeth: Meet the beach debris hunters’ Amy Gladwell refers to a rise in so called ‘eco-friendly’ beachcombing. Although such media coverage may have helped prompt a surge of action from the authorities, industries, companies and individuals, to take some bold steps to reduce plastic use, years of damage has already been done. In fact, centuries and decades of dumping anything from packaging to false teeth, has resulted in a continuous and alarming supply of refuse lapping up on our shorelines.

beach clean

Coast Care is a new initiative created to conserve our heritage. The project was assembled by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty partnership and the Seahouses Development Trust. It is supported by National Lottery players through the Heritage Lottery Fund. Coast Care offer support, training and resources to volunteers to contribute to the management and conservation of the Northumberland coastline from Berwick to Amble. However, to do this they also need to recruit volunteers, many volunteers!

The organisation has a role for everyone from Conservationists and Site Wardens to Guides or Walk Leaders. The team also need Historic Environment Monitors, Wildlife Surveyors as well as Support Officers and Interns. Coast Care need volunteers who care about wildlife and the local environment, people who want to make a difference, those who want to add to their CV, or those who just want to become more active. The organisation needs people with energy, time and commitment, as well as those with practical skills or those who want to acquire new skills.

To find out a little bit about one of Coast Cares volunteering roles, I spoke to (coincidentally) another John (see previous post!), who is a volunteer Site Warden.

John participates in organised events such as beach cleans alongside 6-20 other volunteers. Amongst other things he removes litter from a given stretch of beach close to his family home. Items that turn up regularly include lobster pots, packaging, ropes and nets and even old tyres, but mostly his haul consists of “plastic… lots and lots of plastic”. Site Wardens check the beach for injured/deceased animals, report coastal erosion and make sure the beach is safe to access as well as removing litter. John records his findings, to let others know what he’s done and what still needs to be done. He writes down the hours he does too, because this is an essential component of Coast Care’s funding requirements. John was given an ID badge, has access to a range of tools including personal protective equipment and can claim travel expenses when needed.

looking at seaweed

John is originally from Yorkshire but moved to this area last November. He is currently semi-retired after spending 21 years as a Coffee Roaster. John has recently started a new part-time job but is determined to carry on volunteering because he enjoys it so much. John was drawn to this type of volunteering because he loves the outdoors and has “always had a real bugbear about litter”. He used to live in the Pennines and says he saw a beautiful environment ruined by people thoughtlessly discarding their litter.

John initially got involved after walking his dog on Bamburgh Beach, where he met a lady picking up rubbish. She told him about Coast Care and John subsequently emailed Anna (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) to find out more. His first group beach clean was in mid-December and it made him feel really good, both physically and ethically. The role also helped John to settle into a new area and he has since met lots of new and interesting people who share his interests.

John had no pre-conceptions prior to his first day but remembers “rolling up to meet Anna and a few other volunteers on a cold and frosty December morning.” He felt immediately welcome and felt included, supported and appreciated. John said “it felt really good connecting with others and chatting whilst collecting beach debris”. John described feeling productive and positive about the amount of rubbish they had collected “I suppose you could say it was therapeutic. It seems a strange thing to use the words ‘enjoyed’ and ‘picking up litter’ in the same sentence, but I really did enjoy myself!”

John doesn’t only do the organised beach cleans though, he says he can do up to 10 hours of beach cleaning a week whilst out walking his dog “I do quite a lot of hours really” he laughs “even when I go for a walk in a country lane now, I find myself picking up rubbish!” John said he would encourage anyone to get involved and suggested people should contact Coast Care first for advice and support. John has helped to organise his own beach clean by getting together a group of like-minded Coast Care volunteers.

John feels he has developed new skills and learnt a lot about the coast both from his own practical experience and from the team at Coast Care. “I now know the damage that plastics, rope and discarded fishing nets have on wildlife and the beach!” What’s more he says “six months ago I had no idea about seabirds or seals but I can now pass on my knowledge to others…which I often do!” This is because Coast Care invest in training their volunteers. John has participated in several courses to date and hopes to complete further courses about “red squirrels, shore birds and butterflies.”

classroom

John said he feels valued “because Coast Care is always there to help, I respect their knowledge and nothing is too much trouble for them. I also feel as though they are investing in me as a person by offering training courses.” When asked what the most positive thing about his volunteering role is, John said “I like the ‘feel good’ factor after I’ve helped! I feel mentally and physically stimulated and I feel like I’ve done some good for others as well as myself”

If you would like more information about the roles that Coast Care offer, please visit http://www.coast-care.co.uk/ As John said “I personally would encourage anyone to take a look at the website as it really is informative or contact a member of the team” (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Alternatively, why not have a look at Northumberland CVA database of opportunities http://www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/volunteering if you are interested in researching the variety of volunteering roles currently available.

 

I have a close friend, who as a young mother in the 1980’s bought frozen cheesy jacket potatoes! Why? Because she didn’t know how to cook jacket potatoes! At the time I was incredulous, but she wasn’t and isn’t unique. Some people for whatever reason do not learn the life skill of purchasing and preparing food or indeed how to eat a balanced diet. Following World Health Organisation advice, doctors and dieticians have advocated, for some time now, that we in the UK should eat more fruit and vegetables. Indeed the national campaign to eat ‘5 a day’ was an attempt to flag up this issue https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/5ADAY/Pages/Why5ADAY.aspx.

However, the counter argument has been that people on restricted incomes find it very difficult to eat healthily, that fresh foods are expensive options and too often people buy the cheaper more processed foods that are high in fats, sugar and salt. The Northumberland Full Circle Food Project http://www.fullcirclefoodproject.org.uk/ aims to challenge this perception and strives to resolve this dispute by proving you can eat well on a low or restricted income. Its goal is to give people the confidence and skills to budget, plan and cook healthy meals. The Project, established in 2013 not only tries to address the effects of poverty and deprivation, and reduce incidences of diet-related ill-health but it also aims to make our communities more socially inclusive.

Hazel is a volunteer for the Full Circle Food Project (FCFP) and she spoke to me recently about her role within the organisation. Hazel volunteers twice a week for up to three hours at a time and says she treats her role with as much commitment and dedication as she did her former career. She explained she is currently the only volunteer***, but along with the Full Circle team, she works in Schools and Community Centres to give guidance on health, nutrition and cooking skills, as well as practical shopping advice.

In a previous life Hazel was a Consultant Cognitive Therapist in the NHS and moved back to this area when she retired a few years ago. However, after several months she became bored and “wanted to give something back” Therefore she looked on the internet for voluntary vacancies in the area and after looking at many different roles she felt FCFP matched her skill set. Initially she met up with Vanessa (the Project Manager) several times “because I didn’t just want to rush in and commit myself, I wanted to know what the work actually involved”.

Hazel stressed that the practical aims of the project are not the only positives people take away from their involvement. In fact, she sees massive improvements to participants self-esteem and self-worth levels and emphasises that there should never be any stigma attached to needing help or advice. Hazel acknowledged that had her own life been different, she may well have needed the same support too. The ultimate aim of the project is that individuals come away feeling better about themselves “What they learn about themselves is probably more important than learning how to cook!” One example she gave me was that of a lady who didn’t live with her young son but came along to sessions with him, as a way of keeping in contact. This lady had a priceless reaction when the son won an award as recognition for his contribution to the group. “His Mam was so proud of him, it was so emotional and so lovely to see.”

carrots

There are two groups running separately, one deals with adults only, whereas the other is for young people under 16 (young people generally come along with an adult, usually a parent, to encourage family involvement.) The people targeted she says, are perhaps those on low incomes, but it’s the diversity of the people who attend that amazes her most. Some people may never have received guidance about healthy choices or food preparation and therefore never discovered an interest, or “just what fun, food can actually be”. Hazel feels that people who attend should be admired because it usually takes a lot of courage for them to turn up to the first session and engage with strangers. What is more, by pushing at their own boundaries and sticking at it, people can gain enormous confidence and resilience. In fact, Hazel herself has found delivering sessions has pushed her own boundaries because “I found it quite scary at first, but also quite liberating too!”

Hazel feels that since she began she has been given feedback and support and was made to feel very welcome. “I have worked in many places professionally, where I felt volunteers weren’t always appreciated” but she said she is always kept “in the loop” and feels like a full member of the team. When asked about personal development Hazel said she uses the skills she developed in her career but in a slightly different way. The positives for Hazel personally? The project she says has given her purpose and structure to her week as well as being fun. She has met many new and wonderful people, as a volunteer, and this has enhanced her quality of life.

When asked what has been the most positive thing about her volunteering experience Hazel said “the satisfaction of making real positive changes to the lives of people, many of whom had adverse life experiences”. Indeed, making a positive difference to somebodies quality of life and development of social skills, creating a sense of achievement and increasing their self-confidence are only made possible because of the of “fun and laughter that we have in the group”.

If Hazels story has inspired you to volunteer Full Circle Food Project are currently (***April 2018) trying to recruit volunteers and need more people who can commit to the service.

If you feel you have what it takes why not visit http://www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/volunteering/volunteers to find out more.

Alternatively, you could visit (the above) Volunteer Connect database to start exploring other opportunities we have available within the county.

 

If you are a volunteer and want to share your own volunteering adventures then please leave a comment below or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I’ll get in touch with you for a chat.

 

I was thinking the other day about that old saying “A stranger is only a friend you haven’t met yet!” But could you become a friend to a stranger, or possibly an elderly and isolated person? Do you have something to give, do you feel lonely yourself, or perhaps you want to improve your own wellbeing by helping others?

Last week and as a result of the Jo Cox ‘Commission on Loneliness’, the UK government created, what the media has dubbed, a Minister for Loneliness. A recent study found that more than nine million adults in the UK are currently socially isolated and this can have devastating consequences for their physical and psychological wellbeing. That’s a huge number and the elderly comprise well over a third of that number. An analysis by ‘Age UK’ shows 3.6 million people aged 65 saw their TV as their main form of company. Indeed, polling by ‘Independent Age’ also found more than 1 in 3 people aged 75 or over felt their feelings of loneliness were out of control, and they often go days, or even weeks, with no social interaction at all. Politicians continue to argue over the reasons for this and whether cut backs to services are at the root of the increase, nonetheless the loneliness minister continues to stress there is no single solution. Whatever the cause, it’s quite obvious that solutions need to be found to address this issue. But is such loneliness inevitable, or can volunteers make a positive difference to the lives of socially isolated older people?

One national charity is attempting to address this problem but they don’t have enough volunteers and they need your help! ‘Contact The Elderly’ (CTE) was set up in 1965 to try and address some of the social isolation experienced by many older people by offering them ‘a change of scenery and regular afternoons of conversation and laughter’. Supported by a network of volunteers, the organisation arranges monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for small groups of older people (aged 75 and over) who live alone, offering regular and vital friendships.

Once a month, on a Sunday afternoon, each older guest is collected from their home by a volunteer driver, and taken to a volunteer host’s home, where they join a small group for tea, talk and companionship. The group is warmly welcomed by a different host each month, but the charity’s drivers and older guests remain the same. This means that over the months and years, acquaintances turn into friends and loneliness is replaced by companionship.

This was the experience of Sarah a volunteer with CTE, who initially heard about the charity via a programme broadcast on BBC Radio Newcastle. The broadcast highlighted many of the issues relating to the loneliness of isolated older people. “The thought that any person could go a month or more without any contact, just broke my heart”, so she decided there and then to help.

Contact the elderley 2 ladies 29.1.2018 permission by email

As a farmer’s daughter Sarah was raised in some very rural and isolated communities. She has worked for the NHS and with the elderly as an active member of Safeguarding Adults in the North East and Yorkshire, and she currently works as a Health, Safety, Environment and Quality adviser within the construction industry based in Carlisle

At first Sarah, who volunteered as a driver, did not know what to expect because she had no previous experience doing this type of voluntary work and at 32 she felt she was one of the younger volunteers. Most of the other volunteers were seasoned charity or church workers, so in comparison Sarah felt a bit of an interloper. Despite her initial reservations however, Sarah was made to feel very welcome and says she benefited from the enthusiasm of her team. She attended regular group meetings and felt well supported by her Area Co-ordinators Val and Sheila who helped her understand the issues and put her at ease.

Although her initial experience was as a driver for the group, Sarah soon realised her local area experienced not only shortfalls in the number of hosts and drivers who were available, but the volunteer numbers are restricted in specific geographic areas. Indeed, her group actually got off to a rather chaotic start because they had not secured a Group Co-ordinator (GC), the person who introduces any potential volunteers to the scheme, organises the drivers, creates hosting schedules and liaises with drivers, hosts and guests. Therefore, Sarah stepped forward and offered to take on the GC role as well as driver role. She said “I’m so glad I did! It doesn’t take up much more time, but its time very well spent, and I thoroughly enjoy the role.”

Sarah thinks she has developed on many levels since she began. She has benefitted from being a pivotal member of the team, regularly engaging with members of the community and working with and between other charitable agencies. Although Sarah’s team keep her “in the loop” with any changes or new ideas, she feels she benefits from their knowledge too. Indeed, as most are involved with other local organisations they also advise Sarah about who to contact and what other support services are available.

Sarah accepts that her role can be time consuming and challenging but believes it is also very rewarding “and humbling!” Sarah feels that her main frustration is that the demands on the organisation outstrips the supply of the service. Basically, “I receive a constant stream of names and telephone numbers of isolated elderly people who would absolutely benefit from this service.” However, “sourcing enough volunteers is a constant challenge!”

When asked what has been THE most positive thing about her volunteering experience so far, Sarah said “I have made some life-long friendships and now class my guests as extended family members”. In fact, she now spends a lot of her personal time with a small group “outside of my charity role” With one eye on future work Sarah believes exposure to other charitable groups/members has also given her an insight into available opportunities and how she might progress in future.

If Sarah’s story has inspired you to volunteer, then why not visit Northumberland CVA’s Volunteer Connect database to start exploring the opportunities available in the county

http://www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/volunteering/volunteers

or visit CTE website at www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk/ . If you are a volunteer and want to share your own volunteering adventures then please leave a comment below or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I’ll get in touch with you for a chat.

 

 

The beginning of a new year can often be a time for reflection and new beginnings. As revealed in my previous Blog pets can be a huge help to us poor human beings, but there are times when they also need our help. I was recently reminded of the old saying “a dog is for life not just for Christmas” when I interviewed Sheila Poole a very dedicated animal rescue volunteer.

On an icy cold December morning, on the run up to Christmas, I paid a visit to Sheila who is Chairperson and Dog Coordinator for PARRT (or Peoples Animal Rescue & Re-homing Team).

The organisation is a volunteer led organisation that assists in rehoming unwanted animals. Their main aim is to help small animals in need and they’ve been operating in the Newcastle, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear areas since 1998 (although they can actually re-home animals anywhere between Scotland and Essex.) PARRT operate a non-destruct policy, whereby they do not put any animal to sleep, unless it is strongly recommended by a vet. The rescue has a charity shop based in Amble that helps it make ends meet, but generally they survive through the support of volunteers and north east communities, and from donations and fundraising events.

Sheila’s duties are generally home and community based, but are many and varied. She used to work in the charity’s Amble shop but had to reduce that due to her other rescue commitments. She regularly collects the contents of ‘Dog Food Bins’ (charity bins placed within supermarkets where members of the public can donate pet food) and Sheila also explained that, as Dog Coordinator she deals with any dogs that require re-homing. Indeed, the night before our meeting she took a phone call regarding a dog that needed re-homing, but because the charity does not have their own kennels Sheila completed a risk assessment over the phone and had to arrange for the person to keep the animal at their home address until an appropriate home could be found. The charity can go from a few potential foster carers or adopters, and up to 150 on their register at any given time. However, more volunteers are constantly needed and always welcome. PARRT arranges for dogs to be re-homed, and as such Sheila’s role includes completing assessments, arranging Home Visits, encouraging adoptees to volunteer, taking photos, coordinating ‘Meet and Greets’ and post adoption ‘follow up visits’. (Although they have a very similar process for cats, unlike dogs, the rescue do have their own facilities to house cats in 5 special cat chalets.)

However, going on to emotionally describe the plight of a previous rescued canine with complex behaviour issues Sheila stressed that some dogs do receive emergency or temporary accommodation too. Indeed, the charity refused to give up on one particular dog and despite having to place him in private kennels for over 2 years, he was eventually and successfully adopted by an Essex couple.

Sheila comes from a background of care work, working previously as an auxiliary nurse, but she has always loved animals. When she began volunteering for PARRT she assumed that she would perhaps be doing a couple of home checks per week, however it turned out to be “rather ‘full on’ some days”, which she says is one of the things she loves most about her role. Indeed, her first really memorable moment was trying to catch feral cats using ‘humane traps’. She went on to explain that wild cats, can not only be quite scary, they can also hurt!

Despite the initial commotion and excitement, Sheila said she was made very welcome and found it relatively easy to ‘fit in’ and was given a lot of support and direction from the then ex-chairperson. She also feels that she now knows more about dogs, cats and human nature! Apparently Sheila has experienced some rather “wily people” and has developed a nose for when “people are pulling the wool over my eyes”. Sheila also benefits from monthly Team Meetings where wearing both hats at once (Chairperson and Finance Officer), she and the team discuss cases, problems are shared, plans are arranged and finances discussed. The main problem as Sheila sees it, is that there is always a need for more money. The organisational costs include day to day bills of heat and light, supporting dogs in their homes, building and maintaining cat chalets (they are currently building a new one), the cost of neutering and vaccinating the animals and travel expenses. She would love to win the lottery and help more but she says the charity has so far had a very positive impact and helped “well over 10,000 animals”

Sheila feels that THE most positive thing about volunteering for her has been observing the pleasure both animals and humans gain from one another “finding THAT perfect home for an unwanted pet, somewhere they can happily spend the rest of their life”.

If the New Year and Sheila’s story has inspired, you to seek new challenges and help our four legged friends then why not visit Northumberland CVA's Volunteer Connect to start exploring the volunteering opportunities available in Northumberland.

http://www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/volunteering/volunteers

If you are currently a volunteer and would like to share your own experiences, please leave a comment below or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll get in touch with you for a chat.

WAG picture 12.12.2017

 

I have had a growing and very positive response to my appeal for volunteers’ stories, and this week I discovered that volunteering is not just about people who help other people. It is also about the animals who help spread their own very special kind of joy and well-being too!

Lindsey and dog

I recently met up with Lindsey who participates in a ‘Pets as Therapy’ (PAT) programme with her seven-year-old Siberian Huskie ‘Shadow’. Both Lindsey and Shadow volunteer for an organisation called WAG & Co. Whereby, as a dog befriending service pets are taken to visit Care Homes, or individuals within their own homes, to cheer up isolated and vulnerable older people. To create and retain a professional image, all volunteers wear badges (with photos of dog and owner), they wear donated polo shirts with the organisations logo, and the dogs get to wear very smart bandanas too! WAG & Co is a North East Charity (based in Hexham), set up in 2016, It now has over 100 volunteers (a mixture of Home Visiting Teams and Care Homes Visitors). However, demand is high so the organisations long term goal is to eventually recruit at least 1000 volunteers.

Lindsey, who works full time at a Veterinary Practice also finds time to visit at least 1 of 3 Care Homes on her weekly ‘rolling’ rota, with her canine pal. Their visit, she says can often have quite dramatic results. Even residents who can be “a bit aggressive, become calm when they’re around him”. In fact, “One man who is normally very ‘stand-offish’ and likes to be totally alone, loves our visits. As soon as he sees Shadow he gives him lots of cuddles, he gets very emotional, its so lovely to see.” It appears that Shadow is also very intuitive, “he has a knack of knowing who needs him” and she laughs “he also knows who has got the food!”

Lindsey has a history of working with people in the Care Sector as a care assistant in Accident and Emergency and in Care Homes and a Hospice. This along with her current work for a Vet, and as a lifelong dog lover makes her voluntary role feel “quite a natural progression really”.

Her volunteering career began after WAG & Co came into her employers practice to deliver a talk. (Apparently, the practice adopted the charity as their ‘designated’ charity and now volunteer dogs get discounted treatment as a thank you for all their hard work!) After the talk Lindsey was so impressed by what they did, she immediately filled in the on-line form, which she says was relatively easy to do. She subsequently had an interview and a CRB (police) check. Then Lindsey and Shadow had quite an in depth dog behaviour test to make sure she had total control over him at all times. Shadows reaction to shocks, surprises and loud noise was also assessed, and he passed with flying colours.

Once her police clearance arrived Lindsey was given a choice of opportunities and chose Care Homes in her own locality. On her first visit however she says she didn’t really know what to expect. Because, “even though Shadow is normally very calm and passed the behaviour test I was still a bit worried about his reaction if people were a bit rough with him”. In fact, she needn’t have worried as Shadow was very relaxed and obedient. Lindsey laughed at this idea pointing out that Shadow was recently visited by 24 Brownies who visited the Vets Practice and he quite calmly enjoyed having his tail and legs bandaged and his heart listened to by this group of excitable young ladies!

id badge and bandana

Shadow is a bit of a ‘show off’ and loves to dress up and will normally dress up for events such as Christmas and Halloween. Indeed, Lindsey recently made Christmas Cards for residents, which went down very well, using photos of Shadow (dressed up as usual!) It appears that Shadow loves his volunteering role so much now that even when it’s not a visiting day he tries to drag Lindsey up the path when they walk past one of the Homes! When asked what she brings to her role, she said “I don’t really feel as though I do anything to be honest, its Shadow who makes the difference! But I do feel very good when we leave.”

According to Lindsey she has had great support from Diane (the Charity Director) and Heather (the Charity Office Manager) and feels she has been made 100% welcome by the residents and staff at the Homes she visits. Diane and Heather give her any assistance or guidance she requires and she feels free to email, text or face-time them whenever there is an issue, or even if she just wants a chat. The Activities Coordinators at the Homes also give her support, as well as feedback about the impact of her visit. Each week Lindsey discusses with care staff who is most likely to benefit from a visit (as depending upon a residents mood at the time, not everyone may benefit from the experience at any given time) and after each visit she fills in a ‘Visit Report’.

Lindsey feels that her biggest problem so far has been “when I’m unable to visit due to holiday or illness. You see some of the residents are aware of when visits are due and I feel really guilty if I can’t get there for any reason, like I’ve really let people down”. However, THE most positive thing about volunteering has been people’s reactions to seeing Shadow, “sometimes it makes me want to cry” It can be a small reaction or it can be huge. For example, “you see some people who have lost the ability to react to other stimulus, but then they do react to Shadow!”

3 dogs

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Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

By our Anonymous Blogger

 

This week I thought it would be a good idea to look at ‘community’ voluntary roles, whereby people offer their help to deliver a better quality of life within their own community. One such person is Rosemary Theobalds – a resident and volunteer in Hexham.

Rosemary has a large family and whilst her children were young she became involved in the Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) but sadly, around the time when her children began to leave home to take up job opportunities and University, Rosemary lost her husband. So, as a widow and after years of being a busy Mum and looking after her family, Rosemary felt she needed to get more involved in her local community. Rosemary said she has always “loved Hexham” and has “always felt privileged to live here”, so it is not surprising that she felt motivated to express her thanks by improving the quality of life for her fellow town’s folk.

Hexham Partnership (which grew out of The Better Towns Initiative) was set up in the 1990’s to make Hexham a more ‘vibrant, enterprising and adaptable market town for local residents, businesses and visitors’. Around this time, and as a representative of ‘Churches Together’, Rosemary volunteered to be on the Board, saying that as a former Youth and Community Governor of Queen Elizabeth High School “it was a natural progression to become involved in the Hexham Community Partnership”.

Rosemary’s volunteering experiences over the years have not only concerned her Board work, but have involved practical work as well as Regeneration and Events with the Partnership. For instance, she regularly drives for the Social Eyes Lunch Club for blind and partially sighted people and twice a year drives and hosts the monthly Contact the Elderly Tea Party. Whatever her role has been however, she has always been made to feel very welcome by organisations and other volunteers. Indeed, just as she feels her motivation has always been to help others, so she feels others have helped her.

Being such a busy volunteer means that Rosemary has faced many challenges. However, she feels that her time management, although much improved, has been her biggest single issue, especially when it comes to “double booking” her time. Nevertheless, other challenges have also had more positive effects upon Rosemary’s self-development. She is now less reserved and willing to ‘step up’ and have her face in the local paper, for instance. She also understands how Community and Voluntary organisations work, has learnt about employment law and confidentiality issues as well as data protection legislation. Because Rosemary is involved in a number of projects she also feels valued as a ‘networker’, as someone who can connect people. “People tend to contact me,” she says, “if they want to know something, or who to contact”.

Rosemary was also heavily involved in the preparations for Hexham’s annual SPOOK NIGHT to celebrate Halloween. This event brings money into the town, brings the town together and entertains the children and their parents. It has included a Ghost Walk (by students) to the Abbey, a Witches Den, Stalls, and a Fancy Dress Competition as well as a Fun Fair. Although the event started very small in Hexham Market, it has now grown to include Belmont Street, which is now closed especially for the event, and now takes up a huge chunk of the Abbey grounds including the bandstand.

Although the event is ably coordinated by HCP staff, volunteers work alongside and support staff on Spook Night and other community events, such as the Christmas market. So much so that Rosemary is of the firm opinion that this and other events would not take place if it were not for the volunteers. Indeed, they man and set up stalls, they take publicity to businesses and tie up posters around the town, as well as helping with the road closures and the Event Control Stall. Afterwards they also help in the cleaning up process. Volunteers also acquire the prizes from local businesses. Queens Hall Theatre for instance donates a family Pantomime ticket each year and the Forum Cinema (owned by the Community Partnership) also donates tickets. Other businesses in the town also generously donate vouchers in support of this event.

When asked what THE most positive thing about her volunteering has been, Rosemary said that being allowed to express her gratitude to her townsfolk by giving back to her local community was very rewarding.

I love being able to talk to volunteers about their so many varied adventures. If you’ve had some interesting volunteering adventures in Northumberland I’d love to have a chat. Simply email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to arrange the best time to get together.

 

My previous Blog highlighted how some community events are unlikely to happen without the energy and commitment of local volunteers. My current Blog also highlights a service that would not be available without its charitable beginnings or without the help of its army of volunteers.

I recently met Gerry at the Visitors Centre at H.M. Prison Northumberland. Gerry is a volunteer for NEPACS, a north east charity which has been supporting people affected by imprisonment for over 130 years. The aim of the organisation is to support prisoners and their families in the north east of England by providing practical and emotional support.

Gerry volunteers within the Visitors Centre and helps to book visitors in prior to going across to the Visits Hall. New visitors are directed across to the prison to have their fingerprints taken and for security reasons they also have their photo taken on this initial visit. The prints and photo are then placed on a database so that “in future they can be just scanned through”. Gerry advises all visitors about Prison Policies, such as, only £20 in change allowed per Visiting Order and reminds them that they should carry their ID. Visitors and family members are then shown lockers to place prohibited items in and advised that prison officers conduct regular searches to enforce this prison policy.

As expected this process can be quite an ordeal for family members. Gerry said he likes supporting visitors, who may be very nervous, especially when they arrive for their very first visit. Many visitors are fearful about meeting their loved one, but also anxious and intimidated by the prison experience and environment. Gerry finds that visitors enjoy the “security of knowing, or being informed, about what’s going to happen”, so he likes to take time to sit with them. He explains the process and tries to reassure and calm them down a little, because he says “Families have a hidden sentence too!”.

Gerry has only been volunteering since August and says he is really enjoying his experience. Originally from another part of the country he retired to this area several years ago. In fact, he has retired twice, once at 56 and then again at the age of 62. Working previously as a Logistics Manager and a Publican, Gerry described himself as a ‘people person’ who ‘stagnated’ and got bored during his first retirement. He subsequently bought a shop and Post Office business but was forced to give that up as well after a series of heart attacks. Again Gerry began to, in his own words ‘vegetate’. However, after an accidental meeting with a lady who already volunteered for NEPACS and after some encouragement from his sister who is a Magistrate, he looked at their NEPACS website and thought “Yes, this is for me!”

Initially Gerry assumed the role may involve doing practical, “low level stuff” he also thought it may involve working with a mixture of people. In some respects, this was right, but it turned out to involve a lot of his interpersonal “people skills” too. Indeed, he found that “dealing with different people, you eventually build up relationships.” He now finds he knows a lot of the repeat visitors well, and they are just “ordinary people who happen to have relatives in prison.”

As a volunteer Gerry feels that he was made very welcome, immediately. In fact, the organisation has many voluntary opportunities, as well as part time and full time opportunities and different age groups, who all work together for a common goal. Gerry works one day per week for 4 hours but puts in more hours when training and he is kept updated by regular Team Meetings. Gerry feels “absolutely” valued by the organisation and his colleagues and although he sometimes has to think on his feet he said “it’s always such a supportive, positive, can do atmosphere!” He said It also feels good to be told “Thank You, at the end of the day”. The only down side, or good side depending upon how you want to look at it, is as Gerry acknowledges “I appear to be the only Male volunteer!”

All NEPACS volunteers are given access to policy guidance documents to guide their actions and are given regular support, supervision and encouragement. They also participate in regular reviews to discuss any issues or development objectives and the organisation offers a wide variety of training opportunities and experiences. Indeed, Gerry feels that he has already developed in his role and recently completed the HEADING HOME programme which is an initiative to support families when prisoners are released and during resettlement. Basically, it is a 14 week course and is an opportunity for prisoners and their families to talk over any pre or post release worries with a facilitator. The idea being to create a more positive resettlement experience. Gerry hopes to eventually become a facilitator and participate in this scheme, once he gets clearance for his security pass.

Asked about THE most positive experience of volunteering, Gerry said it “lifted me out of quite a mundane day to day life”. He now starts each work day “looking forward to what’s ahead!”

Whilst concluding my meeting with Gerry, his line manager Liz Arthur (The Visits Services Team Leader) came along and during a discussion about volunteering Liz said “Everyone has something to offer, and everyone has something to gain!” Indeed, this is so true. Gerry brought his interest in people and his interpersonal skills to his role, but as a result he has received a renewed interest in life and people. What could be better than that?

If Gerry’s story has inspired you to volunteer, visit Northumberland CVA's Volunteer Connect to start exploring the opportunities available in Northumberland. If you'd like to share your own volunteering adventures in Northumberland, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll get in touch with you for a chat.

whale tail compressed

Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

By our Anonymous Blogger

 

I recently had a very interesting meeting with a young woman who has an extremely active and interesting life. Although she now works full time, Anna has been a volunteer on various projects over the years, and like many others could be seen as a ‘serial volunteer’.

Anna currently volunteers for several projects: The ORCA Project and North East Cetacean Project (NECP) looking out for whales and dolphins; British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR); and the Royal Society Protection of Birds (RSPB). All have given her experiences that Anna believes have helped her gain her current full time employment as a Volunteering Coordinator.

One of Anna’s early volunteering opportunities opened up a new and quite different interest for her. It happened quite by chance and as a result of watching a TV programme, of all things! Whilst at University studying for a Marine Zoology Degree (Anna had always wanted a career in marine conservation) she watched a programme about people being challenged to do things outside of their comfort zone. What she observed was so truly remarkable that it resulted in a change of direction for Anna. It transpired that one of the participants “a guy who was blind, completed some really remarkable tasks, such as abseiling and climbing!” Indeed, watching this courageous episode got Anna thinking ‘what must life be like for him? Or for that matter, for anybody who cannot see?’

Anna got to appreciate just how brave this man was when she herself took part in a blindfold challenge (a Blindfold 24 Hours in fact!) to raise money for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To some extent this experience got her hooked. Participating in such challenges took her out of her own comfort zone and Anna subsequently went on to do a Blind Scuba Dive, a Blindfold Rock Climb and a Blindfold Horse riding lesson!!

After her first blindfold event however, Anna was invited to apply for a dog training course called a ‘My Guide’ course. This scheme is aimed at training volunteers to ‘partner’ or ’buddy’ blind or sight-impaired individuals to help them gain some independence by working with their dogs to, for example, navigate a bus route or make a cup of tea.

Anna said she didn’t really know what to expect and felt a bit nervous at first, especially since she herself is sighted. However, she needn’t have worried, she took to the “very rewarding work” fast, and found the people to be very welcoming. Indeed, she remains very good friends with one of the people she once helped to guide. Anna also feels she developed and gained valuable insight through the role. “It makes you think outside of the box,” she said. “You become aware of every kerb or bump in the road”.

She went on to outline some of the rather obscure concepts blind people have to deal with. “I had to think about, and was able to recall visual details to describe and relay back, I had to describe colours and” Anna gave me a worried look “give my truthful opinion about how someone’s clothes looked!”

It seems that Guide Dogs for the Blind are a very supportive organisation. Anna had DBS checks and was given advice and guidance on many issues, including Safeguarding. However, much of her day to day work was self-managed. She was introduced to the two people she was to support then she made visits independently, keeping a log to describe activities to feed back to the organisation. Anna worked with two very different personalities and said it was interesting to see the difference in visual impairment and the level of need.

When asked to describe the most positive things about her volunteer experience, Anna said it was “gaining a friend for life” and “getting the experience that led to my current full time employment”.

Anna believes her volunteer work helped her gain full time paid employment, first as a guide dog Mobility Instructor, but later it had a direct impact upon her ability to access her current post as Volunteer Co-ordinator with Coast Care and Northumberland Wildlife Trust (a marine conservation scheme that aims to engage 2000 volunteers in activities to safeguard the outstanding North Northumberland coastal landscape by 2020). This individual project, in partnership with Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and The Seahouses Development Trust, aims to protect and care for the wildlife in and around the North East Coastline.

With hindsight Anna now believes that a “random quirk” that initially led her away from marine conservation also brought her back. In the end though, volunteering for various organisations (including BDB) has Anna the recruitment and training knowledge she now uses to benefit her own volunteers.

If Anna's story has inspired you to volunteer, visit northumberland CVA's Volunteer Connect to start exploring the opportunities available in Northumberland.  If you'd like to share your own volunteering adventures in Northumberland, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll get in touch with you for a chat.

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