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Fiona’s story: volunteering with FamilyLine

01 June 2021

Our FamilyLine service offers the opportunity for callers to receive emotional and practical support, and we’re used to hearing about the positive impact the service has upon the lives of those who use it. But each FamilyLine conversation features two voices. We hear from one of our volunteers as she tells us what it’s like to be on the other end of the line and how the experience has changed her life too.

I used to commute to London every day and it took up so much time just getting to and from work, so when I changed jobs at the beginning of last year I found I had lots more spare time in the evenings, during lunch hours and even at the weekends. My day job is data analysis, so I don’t really have any contact with the public but I felt a responsibility to society, and I wanted to help people. Plus I’m not one of those people who likes to sit around doing nothing – I like to have something going all the time! 

It was actually my partner who spotted that Family Action had a volunteering service that sounded exactly like what I wanted to do. I was keen on helping people in a practical sense and taking different types of calls appealed to me. Following a successful interview, I started a month ago after doing a few months of training, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious about starting. Waiting for that first call, in particular, was a worrying moment.  

It was quite quick in the end and came through within ten or 15 minutes but it was scary not knowing what the person on the other end of the line would want help with. It’s something I still occasionally feel before I start a shift but what I didn’t know back then was that when you’re actually on those calls you’re not nervous or anxious, and it comes really naturally. 

I was expecting things to be quite difficult sometimes – if I was having a conversation with a person who was not in a good place or really low, for example. That can happen and you do think about the caller and how they must feel, but you also learn that feeling that way while you volunteer is fine as you have the support of the wider team and Family Action experts available for you to talk to at any time.

People thank you so much for listening to them, and when you hear that you realise you have been able to help.”

At first, the situation was completely alien to me as it was the first role I’ve had where I was directly speaking to people – but that’s been fantastic because I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how important encouragement and support is and how they can help people alleviate some of their negative feelings and I’ve been quite surprised by how grateful the people who call are… People thank you so much for listening to them, and when you hear that you realise you have been able to help.

The role has also taught me a lot about juggling things. The variety of calls is so vast, and I don’t think I’ve had the same type of call twice, so it can be quite exciting, and really interesting. I’ve found out a lot of things about mental health charities, social services, benefits and legal aid. Every single call is slightly different and each time I pick up the phone I’m increasing my knowledge of the world. 

I’m also pleased that I’ve been able to bring some of my skills from my day job into the role. I’m constantly looking at data… checking for problems with it, working out how to fix it and make sure it’s right going forward. That helps me with discovering the issue at the root of the call, what I could possibly do to help and how to record it so I can help people in the future.

I didn’t expect to become so close to the wider team but some of the FamilyLine staff set up a team call where we could see each other face to face and share stories and tips. It was interesting to hear that people have had the same feelings as me.   We even had a new person on the call who was about to start her first shift… which was nice as it meant we could understand, offer advice and also realise how far we’d come. 

Surprisingly, the role has been one of the few things that’s actually been easier this year because of COVID-19 as it’s home-based, flexible and easier to dedicate time to. Even so, it’s clear that some of the calls we receive are clearly as a result of the COVID-19 situation – things like people needing help with homeschooling and benefits. It’s interesting, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the calls change in the future. People thank you so much for listening to them, and when you hear that you realise you have been able to help. 

Find out more about volunteering with our FamilyLine service and the difference you can make. If you are struggling with an aspect of family life you can contact our FamilyLine service for free.