Spotlight on: Tom – what it’s like to volunteer for Samaritans

December 18, 2020

Writer for The Economist by day and volunteer with Samaritans by night, east Londoner, Tom, has been a Dot Dot Dot guardian for three years. Writing from his 2-bed flat, Tom describes the reality of his eye-opening role as a listening volunteer, and how being part of an army of like-minded people looking to make a positive difference is an extremely rewarding venture.

It’s 10.30pm on a Monday and I’m one of hundreds of Samaritans volunteers on duty tonight. I cycle from Poplar along the Thames path and under the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to my local branch in Lewisham. The river is peaceful and the path quiet. It’ll be silent when I return just after 3.

Becoming a listening volunteer begins with an information evening and a short selection process. Training normally involves several sessions which mix theory and role-play. These are usually in person but have been virtual during the pandemic. New volunteers are then assigned a mentor and you work together to develop your practice until you’re ready to take calls independently. However, you’re never “flying solo” – there’s always at least two on duty in a branch at any one time plus a leader on call. Training is stimulating and eye-opening. I was part of collaborative and close-knit group and many of us have stayed in contact. “This is not work experience” we are told early on. And it’s a really important point. Volunteers are discouraged from seeing training at Samaritans as just a stepping stone to a career in counselling. To train as a listening volunteer is to share the mission of the organisation and commit to regular duties in the long-term.

Contrary to perception, and despite being founded by a vicar, Samaritans is not a Christian organisation. The Rev Dr Chad Varah described its beginnings as “a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone.” The Daily Mirror called Chad the “telephone good Samaritan” and the name stuck. Now, over 20,000 volunteers in over 200 branches provide emotional support over the telephone, via email and by letter. There’s currently a pilot project trialling instant messaging too.

When people find out I volunteer at Samaritans, they usually have lots of questions. Our strict confidentiality policy – everything said in a contact remains within Samaritans – means volunteers do not share what’s been said in a call, even with those closest to them. There’s lots of support within the organisation. Common questions asked, that can be answered, include how often do you do it (I volunteer once a week) and do you always do nights (no, you can generally choose your hours but you are expected to contribute to the night shifts).

Volunteering for Samaritans is extremely rewarding: after each shift you know you have helped a number of people. You sense you’ve made a difference at the most basic level – you have been there for someone. You feel part of an army of like-minded people with similar motivations. Although the charity is vast, each branch has its own ways of doing things and each is its own unique community. As a guardian, my regular duties enable me to fulfil my 16 hours and often more.

There are lots of development opportunities within Samaritans. Each branch relies on volunteers taking on additional roles: from management, to mentoring to fundraising. Volunteers are supported to develop their skills and follow their interests. Two years into my Samaritans journey, I’m now helping my first mentee begin theirs.

You can donate to help Samaritans maintain their listening service at www.samaritans.org/donate-now. Whatever you’re going through, you can call Samaritans any time, from any phone for free on 116 123. You can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org. For more, visit www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan.

Read more of our guardians’ volunteering stories over at our guardian spotlight

Spotlight on: Stuart – Changing Horizons

September 11, 2020

The 10th September 2020 marked World Suicide Prevention Day, an important time to reflect that in the absence of face-to-face interactions, keeping human connections alive wherever we can is more important than ever. Today we are sharing Dot Dot Dot guardian Stuart’s story, in which he speaks frankly about his own mental health challenges, and how this eventually led to setting up his charity, Changing Horizons. Read Stuart’s story below to discover how he has been able to help thousands of people access the help and support they need to improve their mental health – himself included.

 

Did you know that the leading cause of death men under the age of 50 is suicide? That the same is true of women under the age of 35? Suicide is word that makes people feel uncomfortable. It’s steeped in stigma, myth and misunderstanding. One if five people in the UK will experience suicidal thoughts at some point in their life. It’s highly likely that one of your family members, friendship circle or colleagues are wrestling with these thoughts right now. Sadly, most of us experiencing these thoughts will suffer in silence; too afraid or too ashamed to speak out and ask for support. Tragically, the act of suicide becomes a reality for far too many with one in fifteen making an attempt on their life. It’s terrifyingly common with the devastation of a single act of suicide felt far and wide.

It’s not as though I wanted to die when I attempted suicide. I was lost in a sea of desperation, burdened with feelings of hopelessness, sadness and loneliness with no end in sight. I had been struggling with for over ten years with depression, a common illness where rates among people in the UK have doubled during the coronavirus pandemic, with one in five adults struggling with symptoms. Suicide wasn’t new to me having lost my best friend to suicide at the age of 21. It came as a complete shock. I had no idea he was struggling at the time which wasn’t unsurprising given that I had never revealed my struggles with depression, self-harm or suicidal thoughts. We’d shared our hopes and dreams together, but clearly kept our woes and worries to ourselves.

Unlike Mark, I survived my suicide attempt but I still felt like I had nothing to live for. Depression had robbed me of my career, my relationship and all the plans I had envisaged for a happy future.

I became embittered by the reality that mental health was very much a taboo subject in a society where talking about physical health is almost part of our daily ritual. It felt like most people dealt with mental health by not acknowledging its existence at all. It seemed so unfair and so unjust. Why should we have to hide how we feel? Due to the stigma of mental health, many of us choose not to speak out. When we do open up to those that are around us, so many are afraid of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing that they just do nothing. Wanting to find a reason to live, I decided to make it my life’s mission to normalise conversations about mental health. I’d achieve that by setting up a charity that provided courses to equip participants with the knowledge to recognise symptoms of mental ill health and install them with the confidence to start a conversations about mental health.

Armed only with an idea, I applied for funding from the National Lottery in 2011 to train as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and run a pilot project training people in Mental Health First Aid. Remarkably, my bid was successful and my organisation ‘Changing Horizons’ was granted charity status. I’ve never looked back. Through my charity, I’ve gone on to train thousands of people on how to start conversations about mental health. I’ve had participants find solace in the courses I provide and finally access the help and support they need for their own mental health. It fills me with pride knowing that participants have used the knowledge they’ve learnt to start conversations about suicide and ultimately, save a life. Being a Dot Dot Dot property guardian and the inexpensive housing it affords has allowed me to run a lot more fully funded courses and deliver life-saving courses to a greater number of people. It’s why I find being a property guardian such a privilege and am grateful to Dot Dot Dot for that.

Life is really tough for many of us at the moment. Myself included. The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on my mental health. I’m finding life a challenge, but my life is very different now. I’ve built a network of support so that I don’t have to suffer in silence anymore. I speak to counselor on a weekly basis. I take medication to help me manage my mental health which provide stability so I can meet life’s challenges head on. I’ve got friends and a partner I can be open and honest about my mental health with. I still have suicidal thoughts but I now know how to beat them. It is okay not to be okay. However, it’s not okay to suffer in silence like I did. A conversation can be enough to start someone on a journey to recovery. If you see someone struggling with their mental health, stop and have a chat. You could help save a life.

If you need someone to talk to then you can call the Samaritans on 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org 24/7. Check out more of our guardians fantastic volunteering stories here.

Where and how to volunteer during the Covid-19 crisis

March 24, 2020

It’s crucial that we’re all observing self-isolation right now. But the need to provide help and support to others is also more important than ever. Whether it’s donating goods or money to those who are less fortunate than you or cooking meals for your friends and neighbours who are either still working or too vulnerable to leave the house, every little bit helps. There are a multitude of ways that you can volunteer during the Covid-19 crisis but we’ve compiled our own list of easy ways that you can get involved – read on to discover an option that suits you.

1. Cook For Your Community

If you know someone who works for the NHS or in hospitality, it’s likely that they’re still going into work. Whatever their profession, they might be struggling to make it to the supermarkets whilst the shelves are still stocked. It’s no secret that comfort food soothes the soul, so what better way to help your friends and neighbours out than by cooking up some of their favourite recipes?

The great thing is that you can easily do this whilst avoiding contact with others – just leave these meals on your friend’s doorstep! Not forgetting that cooking can help to qualm any stress and anxieties you may be feeling about coronavirus. Check back here for our top recipe recommendations coming soon!

2. Assist Food Banks Under Strain

Food banks are an essential community service but are under immense pressure to ensure that no one goes without during the coronavirus crisis. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest network of food banks as well as smaller, local food banks will press on to provide as much support as they can to communities during the outbreak.

So how can you provide much-needed reinforcement to food banks at this critical time? Provided you are not at-risk yourself and have the time needed to volunteer, click here to find your local food bank. You can also volunteer by finding out and donating their most needed food items – these will differ from day to day so keep checking back to find out their most needed items.

3. Look Out For The Vulnerable In Your Community

The government’s advice is that we must now avoid all but essential social contact. As a consequence, this will mean that for most of us, we need to wave goodbye to many of our regular social activities and accept that spending a majority of our time at home will become our new normal. As we adjust to this new and different pace of life, it’s important that we keep up our contact with others, whether by phone calls, social media or video chats – find new ways of staying close to those who matter to you.  

If you are aware of someone in your building, community or neighbourhood who could be at risk of feeling isolated (pay particular mind to over 65’s or the elderly), volunteer to be their point of contact during this period of uncertainty and separation. This could involve being ready to do their shopping, video calling them regularly, or batch cooking their meals if they are less able to do so. 

4. Walk Your Neighbours Dog And More By Joining Your Local Mutual Aid Group

More than 1,000 community focused mutual aid groups have been popping up across the UK. Umbrella organisation, Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK is coordinating localised groups designed to support those who are self-isolating. Whether it’s dog walking, shopping, delivering medicine or other daily tasks, they’ll connect you with people in your local area who you may not otherwise know are in need of help. So far tens of thousands of people have come forward to offer their support.

Here is a comprehensive and growing list of nationwide Covid-19 mutual aid groups, making it quick and easy for you to find one in your local community. There’s also the opportunity to help shape and run these groups even if you’re the one self-isolating. If you’re fit and healthy, this is a great way to volunteer to keep your community afloat and to provide hope to elderly residents who could be forced to self-isolate for four months.

5. Volunteer Virtually

If you can’t leave the house either because you’re self-isolating or you’d simply prefer not to, there are a myriad of ways that you can spend your time constructively by volunteering online. The Covid-19 Mutual Aid group is currently searching for people who can digitally facilitate and build digital tools. From researchers to product managers to engineers to designers, let them know what skills you can offer and how much time you can commit and they’ll get in touch to help you get started.

Alternatively, check out our list below to discover an online volunteering opportunity to suit your needs:

Mental health & crisis support:

Education:

Crafts:

Global support:

  • Assist global crisis relief efforts with Missing Maps
  • Find out how your skills can help the UN

Whilst many of these options may be suited to you, if they haven’t sparked your interest try using do-it.org or Reach Volunteering. Both have ‘do it from home’ preferences enabling you to narrow down your search for a remote volunteering opportunity that you can get behind. Why not also check out Remote Volunteering Options That Work For You? There you can check out more options and some top tips on how to get started today.

5 great places to volunteer in Greenwich

February 4, 2020

If you’re looking to make a positive difference in your community, then you might be a perfect Dot Dot Dot Property Guardian. At Dot Dot Dot Property we’ll offer you more affordable housing and the opportunity to join a community of people who think getting involved and making a difference is important. With our properties in Greenwich coming soon, we’ve delved into the area’s volunteering hotspots to bring you 5 great opportunities to make a positive impact.

1. Give your time to Volunteers Supporting Families

Established in 2013, Volunteers Supporting Families has since been dedicated to recruiting and training volunteers to mentor and support families with children at risk of being subjected to neglect or harm. As a volunteer, you’ll be matched to a family and conduct weekly visits to offer advice or a listening ear for any problems they may be facing. Through these visits, you’ll be helping to keep families together, helping parents to improve their parenting skills and reducing pressures and reliance on social care services. Apply now to offer your support to families at risk.

2. Make emergency food accessible at Greenwich Foodbank

Members of the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network, Greenwich Foodbank is driven by volunteers to ensure that emergency food is accessible for people in crisis. They have a number of voluntary roles available from warehouse volunteers, where you will be responsible for sorting through donated food and making parcels for collection. There’s always room to volunteer at the centres to manually hand out these parcels, or just have an informal chat and cup of tea with people who are in crisis and need signposting towards further support. They’d love to hear from you, so get in touch to join their ranks today. 

3. Help someone get back on their feet with Emmaus Greenwich

First and foremost, Emmaus Greenwich supports people to work their way out of homelessness by giving them the support they need to make a permanent change. Through having a home, meaningful work and a sense of belonging, those experiencing homelessness have the tools to gain new skills and the confidence to get back on their feet. They have a number of voluntary roles on offer including driving, book sorting, social media, upcycling and at local charity shops. Apply to volunteer with Emmaus by emailing volunteer@emmausgreenwich.org.

4. Get your hands dirty at Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park

Four acres of freshwater habitat and home to a surprising array of wildlife, Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park has rapidly become an established and bio-diverse urban wetland. With the help of a team of dedicated volunteers, the careful balance of habitats is maintained to take care of the varying wildlife species that call it home. Each Wednesday and Saturday you can volunteer to clear flora and fauna – the best part is, you don’t need to have any prior experience! Email gpep@tcv.org.uk to get your sign up form.

5. Provide vital care at Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice

Local charity, Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice care for over 2,500 people with terminal illnesses and their families each year free of charge. As they only receive a third of their funding from the NHS, they need to fundraise £5m every year in order to be able to continue to provide this invaluable service to the community. They are significantly supported by volunteers and have available positions for whether you can only spare a few hours or commit to a regular day or evening. Get in touch at volunteersdept@gbch.org.uk to hear about specific availability.

We love when Dot Dot Dot property guardians volunteer in their local communities but it’s not vital. Check out do-it.org or whatCharity to find thousands of volunteering opportunities across London and the UK.

To find out more about how volunteering and guardianship go together, check out our community website page or read some more of our property guardians volunteering stories here.

Spotlight on: Arran – Crisis at Christmas

January 6, 2017

This blog was written by Arran, a guardian currently living in Canning Town.

Spotlight on: Arran

I spent seven days between 23-30 December volunteering at a rough sleepers centre in Hackney. Crisis is a charity that supports homeless people and makes a big effort at Christmas to make sure no one has to be alone at the festive period.

I was a general volunteer so I was rotated on a variety of different roles. This included helping with the preparation and distribution of food at meal times, serving of hot and cold drinks, cleaning of toilets, cleaning of shower facilities, organising of movie screenings and many more.

Affordable Housing | Dot Dot Dot

What I enjoyed the most was when I got to sit down and talk to guests. Often just general conversation, but sometimes we covered deeper issues like such as how some people came to visit the centre in the first place. Sometimes these were hard to hear but I hope it helped that they were able to share. I was told by guests that it was nice to be acknowledged as they are generally ignored in day to day life when on the street.

It was hard to fit in as many volunteering hours during this period as I did as it was a very busy period at work for me. I’m glad I did and it was definitely a worthwhile way to spend the time. I really hope that I made Christmas more enjoyable for at least one person.

I will look to get as many people as I can involved next year.

Spotlight On: Volunteers’ Week

June 8, 2016


volunteers weekThis week is ‘Volunteers’ Week’. It’s a chance for third sector organisations to say thank you to the millions of volunteers who make their work possible. For more information about the week and to take a look at the celebratory events being held across the country, click here.

At Dot Dot Dot, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for. Since we started, our guardians have done the equivalent of many years worth of volunteering. Volunteering with large national charities like Crisis and Stonewall, organisations local to where they live such as Tower Hamlets Friends and Neighbours and Richmond Park, and projects they’ve helped to get off the ground like The People’s Kitchen and Divest Bexley, all our guardians have been dedicating their time to making a difference.HACT blog

Our need for committed and dependable volunteers is especially great because we trust our guardians to be great neighbours for the communities we work with. On this front our guardians have exceeded our expectations: seeking out opportunities to get involved with great local causes, assisting neighbours through gardening help, litter-picking schemes and by generally being the friendly faces next door.

So thank you guardians!

Get involved

  • If you’re interested in volunteering and becoming a guardian with Dot Dot Dot, apply here today
  • Keep up to date with our news and our guardians’ volunteering experiences on Facebook and Twitter

Spotlight on David

March 31, 2016

David has been living with Dot Dot Dot in one of our North London properties for the past 7 months, and has amassed over 100 hours of volunteering for a wide range of organisations – from gardening projects to helping feed the homeless as well as getting involved in a community choir in the local area.

One of David’s main volunteering projects was working in a Mind Charity Shop. He commented on this experience:

mind charityshop‘I sell every manner of goods at the till. I provide friendly conversation which my manager says the customers like! On a typical Sunday I freshen the book stock, and am trusted to label and price new books. With the manager I discuss politics and life. It’s wonderful to do good and enjoy friendships at the same time.’

However, this is not the only opportunity David has been involved in. He also spent some time volunteering with The Conservation Volunteers, helping to manage the landscape at Alexandra Park.  He described this as:

‘Bramble bashing. We cleared about 20m2 of the stuff between the four of us in light rain. So prickly! The toughest part was getting the roots out. Loads of robins started to eye up the disturbed soil, hungry for those worms!’

dalston eastern curve gardenIn other outdoor work, David has also taken part in helping gardening with Dalston Eastern Curve Garden and in packing vegetables for an organic vegetable box scheme, Crop Drop.

He has also taken part in some one-off opportunities such as Crisis at Christmas, where he helped out people who were homeless and spoke to some interesting characters.

We are all really impressed by the amount and variety of volunteering that David has set up – and hope that this continues into the future!

Get involved

  • If you’re interested in volunteering and becoming a guardian with dot dot dot, apply here today
  • Keep up to date with our news and our guardians’ volunteering experiences on Facebook and Twitter

Top 5 London Volunteering Opportunities

October 10, 2014

Top 5 London (2)Are you a gifted writer, photographer or videographer? Then become an Ashoka UK Storyteller for Change at their Makers of More Summit next week. Other great volunteering opportunities come via the Bee Collective and Rootless Garden.

 

Case study volunteer needed
Where: 70 Cowcross Street, London, EC1M 6EJ
When: ASAP
Sustrans is a charity that enables people to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys. Their media team is looking for a creative, media-savvy volunteer to help them collect case studies and coordinate media activity. The volunteer will help the media team to develop interesting and human interest case studies for the charity’s next campaigns.

Find out more information and how to apply here.

??????????????????????????????Volunteer for Crisis at Christmas
Where: Tower Hamlets
When: 23 – 30 December 2014
Crisis at Christmas (CC) provides companionship and support to alleviate loneliness and isolation and help people to take their first steps out of homelessness. In the run-up to Christmas, Crisis HQ opens a small call centre to process up to 16,000 enquiries and applications from prospective volunteers.

They need volunteers to support them in the efficient running of the call centre. This will involve answering telephone and e-mail enquiries and generally supporting the work of the volunteer team in this large scale volunteer recruitment.

 

Storytelling for Change
Where: Makers of More Summit 2014, Oval Space, 29-32 The Oval, London E2 9DT
When: Thursday 16th October
Ashoka UK are looking for exceptional volunteer storytellers on a mission to inspire, evoke and ignite action for social change – be it through writing, photography, video or social media.
Time commitment: 1 full day – 16th October 4:00pm – 10:00pm, plus write up time.

Applications to be a Storyteller for Change for the Makers of More summit, plus a link to where they can find you online should be submitted by Monday 13th October. For more information visit their website.

 

Get sticky with the Bee Collective
Where: The Annexe, 25 Eccleston Place, London, SW1W 9NF
When: Tuesday and Thursday evenings
Bee Collective is a dedicated social enterprise that works specifically with and for London beekeepers. See how they get honey from the hive to the table, and get involved in extraction and bottling. No equipment or experience necessary – just come along and join in the buzz.

Find out more and get in touch via their website.

rootless g
Volunteers to help run the W4 Social Club
Where: The Tabard, 2 Bath Rd, London W4 1LW
When: every Tuesday, from 12 to 3pm
The W4 Social Club is a social club in Chiswick, hosted by fellow New Radical winners Rootless Garden at The Tabard pub. It runs every Tuesday, from 12 to 3pm and is open to anyone aged 55 and over who is interested in making friends, enjoying great pub food and getting stuck into new or familiar hobbies.

Volunteers are needed for organising fun weekly activities and setting up the space. The role will include facilitating an area filled with games, conversation starters and a painting corner where the members can get to know new people, chat to each other or develop their artistic side. Find out more information and get in touch on their website.

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