Melanie, 34, from the Isle of Sheppey is about to start a new job as an Early Help worker but has been working in children’s services for around ten years. She was aware of HOLG’s work having referred several families she’d worked with to us during her career.
We asked her about her experiences of volunteering with HOLG.
1.When and why did you start volunteering with HOLG?
I started less than a year ago. I was working in children’s wellbeing and a lot of my referrals were for HOLG. The feedback was amazing; parents were telling me how the bereavement weekends had changed their children’s lives. Also, I’d lost four people in the space of the year myself so I knew how tough bereavement can be. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got free time, what can I do to help?’ I also thought it could help inform my career.
Once I enquired, it was amazing to discover that so many people I knew had been helped by HOLG. I even found out my stepdad’s two children had accessed their services years ago when their mum had died.
2.What do you do for HOLG?
I volunteer at the bereavement weekends, working as a one-to-one support with a child throughout the whole two-day session. I help them to think about the special person who has died. We do lots of activities to help them with this; music therapy, crafts, and anger workshops. I’m the sort of person who cannot sit still, so even in the breaks, you can find me outside playing football with the children.
The weekends can be difficult sometimes, but the wellbeing support is unreal; the HOLG team is always checking in with you, making sure you’re ok, and doing practical things like making sure you’re fed and have a cup of tea.
3.What preparation did you receive for your role?
They gave me so much support and training, I was so impressed. They made sure I had a really good induction and invited me in to go over all the paperwork in person. As I’d had a few bereavements, they took time to get to know me and find out what I’d been through, to understand what I could bring but also to protect me, which I thought was amazing. They follow through with it too. There’s a debrief after every weekend and always someone there to check in on you.
They’re also always encouraging you to develop your skills; for example, they’ll often invite volunteers, if they feel comfortable, to lead an activity. It feels like you’re all on a level playing field. The support and guidance is fantastic, it feels like a big family. In my previous role, I worked with families through a GP surgery and I could contact Debbie, the clinical lead, at any time for help and to make referrals.
I’ve volunteered at other organisations before and the support at HOLG is amazing in comparison. There’s so much I’ve learnt that I’ve transferred from here to my day job.
4.What’s your favourite thing about volunteering with HOLG?
I like the debriefs at the end of the weekend. You sit down when the children and families have gone home, discuss how it went and what the children might need.
There’s a huge amount you can achieve in a weekend; you really see the difference you’ve made. Children can arrive not even being able to say the name of the special person who has died and by the end of the session they’re able to tell the whole story of how they died. I’ve actually had a few children leave crying because they say they’re going to miss me, which shows the impact of the one-to-one work.
5.How much time do you give to HOLG?
On the first day of a weekend, I’m there from 8.30am – 4.30pm and the second day, we finish at 6pm, so it’s tiring but so rewarding. I volunteer at around four weekends each year, so it’s really not that time-consuming.
6.What would you say to someone thinking of volunteering?
Just reach out and have a chat with them. The team is not pushy at all and there’s no obligation. There’s so much possibility too; you don’t have to work as a one-to-one.
Although having worked with children before is beneficial, you don’t need experience. I’d say the most important thing is personality. If you’re caring and nurturing, you will pick the rest up easily. A lot of children arrive at the weekends apprehensive, so being someone who can put them at ease is the most important thing.
Just give it a go, there are so many ‘wow’ moments; for me, volunteering with HOLG really is a privilege.
You can find out about volunteering here.