During this period of physical distancing, staying connected to each other is more important than ever. That’s why our services are working hard to ensure staff and volunteers can keep in contact with the people we work with via telephone or video wherever possible. Here 21-year-old Joshua talks about his experience of having a mentor through our Friendship Works service, both before and after the coronavirus and lockdown completely changed the way we all interact with friends.
When I came to Family Action I was going through a bad time. The death of a close relative the previous year had sent me into a spiral that had resulted in a breakdown, and I’d had to take myself out of work because I was emotionally unstable and had anger issues. I wasn’t coping very well and my relationship with my fiancé had broken down because of mental health, which was heart-breaking. I’d been here before as I’d had a difficult upbringing and was fostered in my early teens and I realised from experience that it wasn’t going to get better. So I reached out to my social worker for help.
During conversations with them I felt I was sort of holding it all in so I was sent to therapy to talk to people – but this turned into a long and demeaning process as they were dragging their feet setting up the sessions. The date I would meet them just kept getting put further back even though they were initially saying it would only take a couple of weeks to get seen, so it was depressing.
I told my social worker and it wasn’t long after that my they offered me a mentoring-type programme called Friendship Works, where I could get out and talk to someone. I was sceptical at first as I ‘d been on a mentoring programme before when I went into foster care at about 11 or 12, as I struggled socially and with making friends. That one had been a similar idea to Family Action’s service but the mentor would take me out and decide where we were going, what we were doing and how the process would look.
They told me the plan rather than discussing it with me, and I didn’t actually like it… It just felt like I was being “taken out” and I wasn’t comfortable. Because it wasn’t the greatest experience, I was a bit hesitant to try this new one at first because I thought, “Is it going to be the same?” My social worker reassured me that it wasn’t – that! I was an adult, and there was an expectation that they would be meeting my needs. They said, “The person’s a volunteer who is there for you – you’re not there for them”, So I said yes – and I’m so glad I did.
I met my mentor along with their supervisor in a café near my house and we just hit it off immediately. It was funny because we just left their supervisor out of the conversation, and at the end, I was like, “Oh, you’re still here?” We have lots of things in common and our sense of humour is similar – but most importantly they didn’t look down on me… they talked to me as a person, which was refreshing.
”But at this point I would 100 per cent call my mentor a friend and I do trust them.”
We don’t do anything really special – we just go out to the movies, or for meals and walks and we just talk about personal stuff like life experiences and issues with partners. It’s important to me as I have a few friends but not many, and I don’t get the chance to see them that regularly. I’m also not too open with people – I have a lot of trust issues myself because of my upbringing so I won’t tell everyone everything.
But at this point I would 100 per cent call my mentor a friend and I do trust them. I told them I’d always prefer an honest opinion and that’s what I get. They don’t talk to me like I’m “sensitive”. They’ve also gone above and beyond and helped where they didn’t have to. For example, I’d found a new flat and my mentor had come with me to the viewings and to sign the papers. Sometimes I have “blonde” moments and don’t understand something but I’m too shy to admit I don’t understand it. My mentor sat there and said to the letting agent, “Can you tell me like I’m a five-year-old?” Which helped me because they put themselves on the line so I didn’t have to. I had my new flat, I was planning to go back to work, I had a new partner and I was finally receiving the therapy I’d been waiting for… things looked positive.
And then coronavirus came. It felt like a kick in the teeth. My partner and I split up just beforehand and, because of the virus, I couldn’t re-enter work. I was working before my breakdown last year – and it was hard to have moved from earning a good salary to receiving benefits. But coronavirus kicked in and everything was postponed. It felt like I’d lost that year – the guidance said, “Don’t talk to anyone, don’t leave your house, don’t go back to work”. It felt like the progress I’d made had been erased and I was very frustrated.
I just thought, “Wow. I’ve done all this just to come back here on a government order”. As somebody who’d left foster care, I ‘d spent a lot of my time living in shared accommodation so there was always someone down the hall but now the only people I see are my neighbours. Thankfully they’ve been a godsend as they’re lovely and social… and Family Action have still been here for me. They have helped me with a grant to help cover essentials, which has been immensely helpful, and even though we can’t meet up, my mentor calls me once or twice a week. We’ve tried video calls but my internet plan’s a bit shaky so we’ve mostly stuck to the phone.
Once you’re inside all the time you start losing your bearings, so it does help to talk. It’s just good to have someone you can confide in to help you work through stuff. They have their opinion and I’m free to take their advice but they don’t tell me what to do – they’re not scared to say things because it’s not that kind of relationship.
If you’re a care leaver who needs support during this difficult time then you might be interested in Listening Works – Family Action’s new national support service for care leavers. A team of trained volunteers are available between 6pm – Midnight, seven days a week to respond to calls, texts and web chat messages, and offer care leavers a non-judgemental listening ear and signpost to useful resources. Find out more about the service here. Or find out more about our Friendship Works mentor service here.