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Dianne’s story: how my volunteering is making a real difference

06 December 2022

Family Support Volunteer Dianne shares what she finds so rewarding about helping families through struggling times.

Our volunteers have one thing in common: They’re caring individuals who want to dedicate their time to contributing to the world around them. Other than that common factor each one is different, however, with their own motivations, skills and passions that make them vital to our work. Here we harness the spirit of giving at Christmas and listen while Dianne tells us a little about why she volunteers.

I’ve always liked to stay busy.

I loved both my job in London and my co-workers and worked right up until the birth of my first child.

Although I enjoyed staying at home with my sons when they were young my itchy feet meant that when the eldest started school I soon ended up helping out at his school in the front office. Something about it just clicked with me so, when my youngest son also started school, I decided to take up a post in a different school in a deprived area
Little did I know I’d be there for 18 years!

It just got into my blood and I found it so rewarding because, and not to sound patronising, It showed me a side of life I had no exposure to before and helped me to grow as a person.

I realised how some people can end up in difficult circumstances through no fault of their own.

The school was very progressive and positive, and I enjoyed contributing but, when COVID came, it gave me the space to think about moving on and doing something else.

One thing I knew was that one of the things I would miss most about working was not helping or contributing to society.

As I said, I like to stay busy, so I contacted Family Action within one month of leaving my job!

I didn’t know much about the charity at all… I went on a volunteering website and thought that the role of volunteer Family Support Worker was the sort of thing I would like to do.

I contacted them by email and I can say, hand on heart, that the whole experience has been incredibly positive since then.

Their response was very upbeat, positive and welcoming and, even though this was peak COVID time, the early introduction sessions over video conferencing software were great, as was the training.

I’ve worked in a school for 18 years and I don’t think I’ve ever had as good training… They covered so many elements relating to working with people, safeguarding and child protection.

I thought I knew everything coming into it but there were aspects where I found myself saying “blimey, I didn’t know that!”

There was no pressure, and we were allowed to make the decision whether we just wanted telephone contact with people or to go out and visit them.

I wanted contact with people – I just think you can get so much more out of conversations in person, and you can be more supportive and see their physical reactions.

Despite how much I wanted to meet people I was quite apprehensive about my first visit to see a family, something which I thought would be a one-off, but which I realise is still the case when meeting people now.

In some ways I think that’s a positive: you should feel nervous because you’re not going to perform at your best if you’re not engaged.

I’ve never felt like I was on my own, however, as I’ve always felt very well supported by my coordinator and the charity and I can raise any concerns during our regular meetups and supervisions… If I’m not comfortable, I know I can say no.

The role itself is very varied as whatever you do with the family is based on their particular need.

It can be something as simple as just being somebody that they can talk to – for example, they might have some social anxieties or be isolated from their families.

Sometimes it can help for people to just have the opportunity to sit and have a talk with someone who’s not involved in their life.

It can also be about signposting people to other services when necessary: It’s not all about sorting everything out yourself.

It’s been a little bit more difficult recently as financial concerns mean that some services literally don’t exist anymore… There aren’t even waiting lists.

We also have situations where people summon up the confidence to try and ring the council tax office after a summons and can’t get through due to cuts in staffing – it makes it really hard for the people who need those services.

The general level of poverty is a struggle and though I might refer them to Family Action’s Food Clubs as a source of affordable  food I know that even the three pounds cost can feel beyond families… It’s a real struggle.

Although I sometimes inform families about services and other things that might help I think that learning goes both ways and the families have taught me a lot.

I’m always very impressed by people’s ability to get themselves through situations that are incredibly difficult and I’ve learnt a lot about what it means to be resilient.

“I’m always very impressed by people’s ability to get themselves through situations that are incredibly difficult and I’ve learnt a lot about what it means to be resilient.”

If you asked me why I love my role I would say that it’s the feeling that you’re making a difference, as I feel like every time I’ve worked with a family the support we’ve provided has been worthwhile and positive.

If you’d like to explore volunteering with us, or would simply like to find out more, visit our volunteering page