I started volunteering last October for Mind as a result of wanting to further my interest in Psychology, and gain practical experience within mental health. I was thoroughly enjoying my degree and had just started my final year, and although my theoretical knowledge was good I did not have any real experience working within mental health. Considering I wished to pursue a career within mental health I felt that I needed a broader understanding of what I would be undertaking. The thought of volunteering first occurred to me when my lecturer mentioned that it was a great way to not only gain experience, but put you in good stead post degree when applying for jobs, and could even be the deciding factor between two candidates. Considering mental health is such a delicate area of work experience is vital and greatly valued.
My search began online, guided by my housemate who had been involved with a lot of volunteering. She recommended the do-it website and I started to search. Many results came up within my area, however Mind shone out from the others as it was a name I recognised and respected, and I saw that they were ideally looking for someone with a creative interest which is something I have. I emailed Toni who got back to me quicklyexpressing an interest in talking with me to discuss how I could get involved with the Midhurst project. I instantly liked Toni, as she was very friendly and was really helpful with being flexible around my degree. She explained to me what would be involved and invited me to come in to a session and see what I thought. I remember being extremely nervous, as I was not sure what to expect but was relieved to walk into a very friendly atmosphere, felt welcome and offered to get involved with the activities. I loved every second of my first day, and was made to feel like a valued member of the team from that day onwards. I never felt undermined by any member of staff and Susanna and Toni quickly got me involved with running activities, giving me full support and guidance when needed.
I am so grateful to both of them for giving me that opportunity, as it enabled me to develop so many skills when working with the service users and increased my enthusiasm to put all my effort into my degree so I could work within mental health. I quickly developed a close relationship with many of the members and looked forward to each week where I could go and see them all. I was constantly given encouragement by my employers and felt like a part of a very worthy team. I met with Toni regularly to discuss my progression and with her help I then started volunteering at the BeOkay project in Chichester, and doing part time bank work at the Bognor tea and chat group.
Before starting volunteering I was adamant I wanted to work with young children, but I quickly became aware of how much I was enjoying working with the adults and after much thought I decided that was the age group I wanted to work with. Without having this volunteering opportunity I would not have discovered this and could have ended up in a job that was not right for me. When I finished university I decided to enquire about any upcoming jobs at Mind; I was told that there was currently not anything but there could be in the near future. Although I was disheartened I started looking elsewhere, and whenever I mentioned I had volunteered for nine months I got a very positive response from the organisations. In the meantime, Toni contacted me about a job going as a recovery worker at the Bognor and Midhurst projects. I was instantly interested and am proud to say that I got the position and have been working there for just under a month now.
I don’t think that, without doing my volunteering work, I would have been given this opportunity, as it gave them a chance to see my enthusiasm and bear me in mind when a job opportunity arose. I am thoroughly enjoying my new position, and still continue to get the same level of support from Mind as I did when I first walked through the door as a volunteer a year ago.