This week is Volunteer's Week and Jim, one of our volunteers from Ledbury decided to talk to us about his volunteering experience!
Just over two years ago, whilst still, in full-time employment and working from home, I decided to look for volunteering opportunities and started by conducting a local search on the internet and Salters Hill (now Walsingham Support) near Ledbury came up in the first search. Investigating further, the volunteering opportunities were wide-ranging and, importantly, could be for short periods of time. So I made contact and explained my circumstances and that I could only spend around two hours a week at the start. I also made the suggestion that maybe dog-walking would be of interest. This was well received and at the earliest opportunity, I attended a meeting at Walsingham Support along with my dog, Mick.
Mick is a small Lakeland Terrier with 'red' colouring and is easy to manage without too much pull, so he’s easy to take for walks. The meeting went well and it was agreed that I could best support the residents in Keeper's Cottage and that dog-walking twice a week would be ideal.
Once all the necessary induction processes were successfully completed, I visited Keeper's Cottage to introduce Mick to the residents. All but one of them like dogs, so there was no shortage of interest in getting to know him. In fact, to this day, it's very much been Mick in the limelight! With the introductions done I made arrangements for the first of the dog-walks about a week later.
As part of the induction, it was agreed that for the first six walks I would be accompanied by a member of staff - this was very reassuring for me as this was my first experience of volunteering. The first walk went very well - it had been agreed with the neighbouring chalet/caravan park that we could use their extensive site for our walks and this proved ideal - beautiful countryside views, lots of open space, benches and picnic tables where we could sit down as a group and, best of all, a number of lakes that are home to a range of birdlife.
After the accompanied walks were successfully completed, I was happy to conduct future walks with some of the people we support without staff supervision. This has worked well, continuing with the chalet/caravan park as there's plenty of opportunities to vary the route taken in order to provide some variety. Getting to the site means walking down a quiet lane with little traffic. The residents take it in turns to lead Mick down the road and are really good at stopping to let him have the inevitable comfort stops. Although, in spite of much encouragement from me, none of them seems that keen to get involved with 'picking up' after him! I wonder why? Of course, this is no problem, but I keep joking with them about this. Once there, he's let off the lead so he can explore freely and this provides extra interest during the walk as he's off investigating different smells and often gets distracted, requiring the residents to call him to catch us up with us.
This arrangement continued each week even though, on a number of occasions, I had to make schedule changes to fit around my work and personal life - this was never a problem. The number of residents joining on each walk does vary, ranging from 1-4 depending on their availability - it's difficult to find a time that suits all. Enthusiasm to go out walking has remained high even when the weather is poor. In fact, a particularly fun time was had when I managed to get my boot stuck in the mud. JB found this hilarious!
Then Covid-19 hit and my trips to Keeper's had to stop as lock-down was imposed - fully understandable of course.
After a few weeks of not visiting, I made contact with Keeper's via Skype with Mick in attendance - it was great to see everyone again and to catch up and hear how they were all doing.
Then around two weeks ago, there was some good news - I could return to Keeper's providing social distancing rules were observed. Following a discussion with Kath Bird about how this would be managed, I made my first return visit. Now with a staff member in attendance and me masked and gloved up, the walking resumed and, I am pleased to say, went really well. All of the residents observed the 2m distancing rule and great care was taken to ensure that gloves were used when passing Mick's lead between us. So we are now back on track, although currently for only one visit per week.
Volunteering has also been very beneficial for me as I wanted to contribute something back to society, plus working from home can be somewhat isolating, and meeting up with the Keeper's guys each week really helped me with social interaction, new perspectives, etc.. Now, as I transition into retirement, I think it's important to introduce some new structure to my life, not just stop a full-time job with no plan. Contributing more time to volunteering seems like the perfect opportunity!
If you've loved Jim's story and are interested in volunteering for us, follow the link to find out more!