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What I learned from volunteering at Family Action

14 October 2021

Working as a volunteer for our FamilyLine service attracts a wide variety of people with a range of skills; the only real requirement of the role is a desire to help others.  

This was especially true of our 22-year-old blogger Morgan who entered the service while studying as a biology student and found it a rewarding experience.   

I guess I’m a bit different from the type of volunteer people might expect as I’m a student in my final year of university studying biology.  

The fact I’m a scientist is a good way of highlighting there’s not a particular type of person who’s suited to working on the helpline, and it’s nice to broaden your experiences and do something different.  

Interestingly, it was actually my studies that first put the idea in my mind as I was considering a career in genetic counselling. 

It’s the sort of job where you need emotional resilience and good rapport with people, so I wanted to get some experience and see if I had the right stuff.  

There is a more altruistic part of me that wants to help people and do something for others, and this felt like a really tangible way to give people the help they need and point them in the right direction.  

“There is a more altruistic part of me that wants to help people and do something for others, and this felt like a really tangible way to give people the help they need and point them in the right direction.”

I found Family Action through Google and, although I’d seen a few larger organisations offering similar opportunities, this seemed like the perfect one.  

Although I filled out an application form immediately, I left it for a few days and thought about whether I should take the next step. 

I thought ‘what if I’m not the right person?’. 

I was trying to be really aware of what I was getting myself into. I thought that I might have troubling conversations and I was thinking about whether I was in the right headspace and whether I could help.  

As a younger person, I was also very aware that I don’t have children and I don’t have a full range of life experiences: I can’t fully understand what it’s like to have a child with behavioural differences or special educational needs. I had to consider what I could offer.  

Eventually, I decided to apply as I’m a bit of an extrovert and I’ve always enjoyed having conversations with people from different backgrounds; that’s something I find stimulating and interesting. I can talk with and provide a listening ear to somebody and that knowledge helped me overcome my initial worries. Once they got back to me and I started training I quickly realised I had made a good decision by choosing FamilyLine and Family Action. 

We had two major training sessions covering the technical aspects of using the systems which took place online and after that I had a one-on-one discussion with the supervisor where I did a mock call and a mock web chat.  

It might not have been ‘real’ but that experience of pretending really made your first call less worrying. I was constantly being asked whether I felt comfortable and supported throughout and there was no pressure to start until I felt ready but, even with all that support, it’s never comfortable to take the first call. 

I was so scared when it came! 

It was, of course, fine but I think everyone on the helpline still feels a little anxious before the calls as you never know what it’s going to be about.  

Is it going to be a serious safeguarding call or will they just want information? You still get nervous regardless but with each call, you get better.  

There’s also a group chat of all the people manning the helpline each day and it’s really reassuring to have their support as well as that of the supervisors. It makes me feel like I can give callers the best or the most comprehensive answer and I have never felt like I was alone.  

That feeling of being part of a team has only increased over time.  

Everyone is trying to constantly improve the service and improve the volunteers’ experience by bringing us further onboard and improving collaboration to make the most of everyone’s specialisations. 

We also have group sessions where we can go through calls we’ve had and touch on recurring themes and tips, which was weird at first because although we’d worked closely together I’d never seen anyone’s faces but it was nice to finally see them!  

I’d thoroughly recommend volunteering to others, but I also think it’s not something you should jump into blindly.  

It’s a positive experience but it’s not always easy. You can’t always solve people’s problems and that does affect you, but you can help people take small steps to improve their situation.  

Volunteering for FamilyLine has definitely changed me, and I feel a lot more informed about the problems people are facing.  

It may sound naïve, but until you have that conversation and find out about people‘s lives you don’t know what they’re like.  

In general, if I hear something on the news nowadays discussing topics such as housing crises, poverty or education I feel like I know more about it than I did – I understand people’s circumstances better and that has made me react in a better way to sensitive experiences in my own life. 

I’m certainly not as afraid of silences in conversation as I was, as that’s something that’s really important on the helpline.  

What I enjoy the most about the role, however, is that you get a variety of people ringing up. It doesn’t matter who they are – they can be a high-flying businessman or unemployed, but they’re both having the same childcare problems.  

You can’t make judgements about them. They’re people, first and foremost.  

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.