Jo Bennett writes about her experience as a volunteer Jo Bennett has written about her experience as a volunteer with CCP's Social Prescribing team:- 'Back in December 2016 I tentatively stepped inside the CCP offices in Royal Crescent with the intention of applying to be a volunteer. Having had recent experience of anxiety I was feeling incredibly nervous about making this first step. I felt relieved and reassured to be greeted with a smile and introduced to the Volunteer Co-ordinator. She offered me time to consider my background and experience and how these could be utilised within the organisation. CCP offers a range of project areas and a variety of roles for volunteers including administration, reception roles, client advice, fundraising, housing support, financial support and advocacy. I was keen to follow my passion of working in a one-to-one person centred support role and being from a nursing background I chose Social Prescribing as an area that seemed most relevant to me. From this initial stage I was then introduced to Steve Long, Social Prescribing Team Manager and the rest (as they say) is history!! Needless to say the warmth and friendliness continued and I was introduced to the rest of the team and the environment in which I would be based. I received a really genuine welcome from everyone and grateful that Steve went to great efforts to ensure I was introduced to everyone without exception! Following this I met with Steve on a few more occasions to complete necessary paperwork for induction but also to begin to formulate potential ideas for upcoming projects that I could be involved in. This enabled a real sense of a collaborative approach and rather than feeling I was being ‘fitted’ somewhere, I sensed real flexibility and openness to my ideas and input. At the end of the induction, the arrival of an ID badge and DBS clearance signalled I had ‘arrived’ as a fully-fledged volunteer and that I belonged within the team and the organisation. Now you might think that this was the point where I was ‘dropped’ in to my role and left to it, but you would be wrong!! My role doing ‘safe and well’ checks with older clients was introduced gradually after I had gained lots of opportunity to shadow the Hub Co-ordinators on home visits. I was included in these visits and made to feel a valued member of the team. I was encouraged to join in with suggestions and thoughts both with clients on the visit and also afterwards during times of reflection and forward-planning. I also had the opportunity to accompany members of the team into the community to visit local facilities and services and to build relationships and contacts. Without exception these all offered warm welcomes and a genuine desire to provide excellent service to potential Social Prescribing clients. This inclusive way of working also extended to team meetings where ideas were shared and discussed openly, enabling everyone to feel that they had a valuable part to play. It was also a real chance for me to learn from others in the team about subject areas such as housing, benefits, social services provision and community services – none of which I knew anything about! As I progressed to going out on my own to do ‘safe & well’ checks, I felt enabled and safe to do so through the support of the rest of the team. Although understandably apprehensive to start with due to going out on my own and the uncertainty involved, I was encouraged to discuss any areas of concern and gradually grow in confidence. My visits were always done as second visits where appropriate checks for lone working had already been completed and verified for safety by the Hub Co-ordinators. This alleviated my anxieties and enabled me to focus on ‘lesser’ concerns such as would I be able to find the right address and would I be able to park!! Within a few weeks of starting I was able to complete the mandatory training offered by CCP. I must admit that this kind of training from past experience was not something that I was particularly looking forward to, but I was pleasantly surprised! The training team were obviously very passionate on their subject and engaged everyone with their real-life stories – many of which I can still remember to this day!! I also felt there had been real care and attention to detail with the general comfort and wellbeing of attendees in mind. It was the small details such as the temperature of the training room, the timings of breaks. etc., all probably seemingly insignificant but all contributing to deliver a message of care. Regular monthly appraisals have been hugely valuable to me. It really is a chance for a two-way discussion on the role and its progression. It presents a clear message of feeling valued as a person and also valued for the role within the organisation. For someone lacking in confidence like me, this kind of opportunity is hugely beneficial and really allows for an open expression of views. Having now completed six months as a volunteer with CCP I can honestly say that not once have I been referred to as ‘just a volunteer’. It goes to show that the rhetoric of volunteers being valued members of the team does actually match the reality with CCP!! After meaningful discussion with Steve about how I could utilise my skills more effectively in order to meet the needs of clients; befriending was identified as a possible area. I am looking forward to using my qualifications in communication and counselling in a more focussed way, prioritising them as the actual care and support being offered. From doing the ‘safe & well’ checks I have recognised a real need for some clients to have time to talk with someone who is able to spend the time to listen. I hope that through emotional support and befriending, older people experiencing social isolation or loneliness will feel able to explore their own needs and be supported to find a way forward to help improve their health and wellbeing. To summarise, I am very grateful to CCP and the Social Prescribing team for the opportunity to both use and enhance my skills which has enabled me to make a contribution to ‘Caring for Communities and People’. For more information on volunteering or to request an information pack, please contact CCP on 0300 365 8999 or call into 15 Royal Crescent, Cheltenham.