They are out there. In every corner of east Manchester they are giving their time freely, supporting local organisations and, at the same time, learning new skills. Len Grant interviews a couple of the Experience Volunteers.
I’ve probably come across dozens of volunteers at events and in local offices but never actually realised it. They are some of the hundreds of unpaid workers trained and placed by Experience Volunteering, a service for local residents run by the community group, 4CT.
Many take up volunteering as a stepping stone to finding work, others to keep active and make a contribution to their community.
I met Doris Hardcastle in a church hall in Clayton where she had been supporting a mental health users’ group. “It’s just a cup of tea and a chat,” she tells me, “but it’s somewhere for people to meet together which is very important.”
Doris, I hear, has been volunteering for many years. She met the Experience Volunteering service some time after her mother died and has been helping in the community ever since.
“I’d been nursing my mother in her own home for eight years,” she says. “She suffered from Alzheimer’s and I promised her she wouldn’t die in hospital. When she passed away in 2000 I nearly had a nervous breakdown, I was in a bad way.
“I’ve changed enormously since then. The volunteering team has been tremendously supportive and it’s given me a lifeline, a new lease of life.”
One of Doris’s first roles was at the East Manchester Festival at the Grange Community Centre as part of the Refugee Week celebrations. “I’ve also been a receptionist, helped at the Seeds of the East festival in the summer, and next week I’ll be at the stadium for the JobCity recruitment fair.”
It seems to me that volunteering works on so many levels. For Doris it’s about keeping active and building up confidence. New volunteers to the programme are invited onto short courses and taught communication skills, customer service and teamwork, but it’s that all-important confidence building which is central to the work placement.
Tony Pearson says he hit ‘rock bottom’ after a trio of personal setbacks. A relationship breakdown, redundancy from a managerial position with a charity and the death of his own mother all contributed to a depression from which is he only now recovering.
“I’ve been able to keep my skills fresh with the volunteering,” he says. “It’s kept my head clear and I’m more focussed now.”
Tony is not new to volunteering. Throughout his varied career he has used his skills to help others. During his 20s he played in a band and later worked as a Community Service Volunteer in hospital radio, trained in radio production, and then trained others. “My heart is still in radio,” he says, “and I enjoy passing on my skills.”
Since he’s been with Experience Volunteering he’s helped out in their office with administration, marketing and even some of the funding bids. He’s also developed his love of photography and staged an exhibition of his work at the Grange in Beswick. “I took up photography after my mum died. It’s been a good distraction. I’d like to be able to make a living from it but realistically it’ll stay as a hobby as I look for a job in IT training.”
Within months Tony will have completed a course which allows him to apply for teaching assistant posts. “I’d like to be a full-time adult tutor in IT and Photoshop,” he says. “Already I’ve been offered a volunteer placement at The Manchester College which is one step closer to getting a full-time job. Since I’ve had the bad times, I haven’t had the breaks. You just need some luck.”
East Manchester residents interested in volunteering should call Sue or John on 0161 230 1436. Email: email@example.com www.experiencevolunteering.com