Volunteers Week 2021: Experience of volunteering at Together with Matthew Bell

For Volunteers Week 2021 at Together we asked some of our volunteers from across our services to share some of their experiences around how they’ve found the process and what they’d say to others considering it. Volunteers carry out vital work across our services at Together using lived experience and expertise to support people who’ve experienced mental distress in a variety of ways.

Matthew Bell is Helpline Volunteer at Together’s Southwark Wellbeing Hub providing support to people who’ve experienced mental distress firstly by listening and also signposting them to relevant and useful services in the area. Below he explains how he got into the role, what it entails and what he would say to others considering volunteering:

Could you tell us about the how you came to the volunteering role you do for Together and what that involves?

After completing a course on counselling skills at City Lit, I was interested in getting experience in a supportive role that helped individuals with their wellbeing. I found the Volunteer Helpline Worker position advertised online and I saw it as a chance to learn and also to help people.

In this role, I am responsible for providing emotional and signposting support with the aim to connect clients with the local community and relevant services that may benefit their care needs. The service involves working in partnership with clients; prioritising service-user involvement and agency which I think is an empowering approach to providing support. This attitude was something that drew me to this role in particular as it focused on allowing clients to make their own informed decisions towards a better life. In terms of my own development, being on a helpline seemed like a great opportunity to develop my skills as a listener.

What are some of the things you’ve learned from your time volunteering with Together in terms of the people you’ve worked to support and about yourself?

The training helped me feel ready to step into the role and we were given plenty of resources to refer back to. It was done remotely, which was convenient and didn’t hinder from the learning experience. After this initial training, I then shadowed the Hub Support Coordinators as they handled the helpline and this was really interesting and helpful. They’re always happy to answer any questions and offer guidance to volunteers.

I enjoy having this opportunity to help and it’s great getting the chance to work with lots of people at the Hub. Sumaya, Cianan, Paul, Imogen and Chris have all been encouraging and very supportive. The team always shows their appreciation and make you feel immersed within the group. The overall sense I get from the team is that we are all working together towards a singular goal which is rewarding.

There is always plenty to learn as a Volunteer Helpline Worker. Each day is different and there are a wide range of issues that service-users face which keeps me eager to get stuck in. I always look forward to speaking to new people and offering help while we’re working together.

During your shift as a Helpline Volunteer, you’re tasked with handling the helpline, providing signposting support and using the service’s Case Management System, Lumis.

What would you say to other people considering taking on a volunteering role or to looking to work in mental health support?

The role can be challenging, but I feel supported by the team as I am able to reach out and speak to my colleagues if I have a concern. Being on the helpline involves assessing risk and working safely with clients by safeguarding boundaries and confidentiality. A big part of this role is communication – being able to communicate effectively with professionals and the general public is important but is something you’re also able to develop as a volunteer. For someone who is interested in a role like this, I cannot recommend the Southwark Wellbeing Hub enough.