One Family Action volunteer explains why he thinks more men should get involved and explains how doing so has improved his life.
It’s the time of year when family and community are at the forefront of our minds as we take time off and enjoy the Christmas season. For our volunteers, however, community is a year-round concern, as they aim to develop a deeper connection to the people and institutions around them. Here James explains why volunteering means so much to him.
I always seemed to struggle making strong connections to most of the people I met growing up; I felt like I was different and struggled to fit in.
I’m a highly sensitive person and, as a younger man, I spent a lot of time in workplaces where I felt like I wasn’t accepted – I’m not your stereotypical “bloke”, so never really felt comfortable making conversation with a lot of my colleagues.
It caused me a lot of anxiety about fitting in and I didn’t really feel a connection with too many people until I met my partner.
It’s funny as we both fancied other people at first, but they both pulled out one night when we’d arranged a double date, so we just decided to go out together anyway.
I texted her immediately that night after the date to say I liked her… and we’ve been together ever since.
Our first child – a son – was born shortly after we got together and my partner initially stopped working to care for him, but I was very hands-on right from the start.
It was a while before we had our second and third children – nearly ten years – which allowed us to work out how parenting looked for us, and how we could build our working lives around them.
We prefer the children to have one parent at home rather than have childcare so, when jobs become available, whoever has the best opportunity will take a step forward and the other supports them. It’s just something that’s worked over the years.
I was in the main carer role when we had our third child, and that’s when we first got involved with Family Action.
It was odd really as, even though my partner breastfed both of our other children we had difficulty getting the third to feed.
We attended a Family Action stay and play to get support, but while we were there one of the staff members was asking one of my partner’s friends if they wanted to do some volunteering.
I couldn’t help eavesdropping and, after listening for a while, I asked if it was something I could do.
There’s always been something in me where I’ve felt like I wanted to help people and I liked the idea of being in a position or role where I could benefit the community.
This felt like a way to get my foot in the door.
I had some training first which showed me how to offer parents and guardians tips that might help them if they’re struggling with anything to do with raising their children.
Even though I had three kids there were loads of tips I learnt where I thought “I haven’t tried it that way” or “I’d like to give that a go”.
I’d come home and try out some of the ideas on my kids like they were Guinea pigs!
For example, they had one where you set up a piece of black card and then gave children star stickers when they were kind, so it created a night sky… They liked that one!
I do a variety of things for Family Action – at the moment I’m helping with the community garden at our local hub but I also do things like run board game clubs for kids to get them out of their houses and off computer screens.
I also volunteer at the local contact centre to help with getting things up to date and moving forward.
The last few years had been tough and I wasn’t in the greatest of places when I started the role but during meetings with the other staff I was able to share how I was feeling… It’s helped me to grow and feel accepted being around such a lovely, inclusive, warm group of people; staff, volunteers and those using the service.
I definitely feel like I have found my place.
It’s important to stick together as when I speak to people in the local hub everyone seems to be struggling at the moment and lots use food banks. I know that, with only one wage coming in, we’ve been trying to keep the heating off to save money and we’ve had to borrow off family to make ends meet from time to time.
But the fact that we’re no different from the other people coming into the hub is kind of the point.
It’s hard to put into words but I love the fact that I’m part of a bigger thing. I was so glad to join when I did and be able to help with moving our hub forward. I’m chomping at the bit because I can feel how great it’s going to be in the future, but I want it to happen now!
“I love the fact that I’m part of a bigger thing. I was so glad to join when I did and be able to help with moving our hub forward. I’m chomping at the bit because I can feel how great it’s going to be in the future, but I want it to happen now!”
It’s also good that I can help other men in my community as, to be honest with you, people were quite surprised when I joined as sadly so few men volunteer.
A lot of men may feel quite sheepish and shy about engaging because of societal pressures or beliefs, and it’s such a sad situation when male suicide numbers are so high.
There’s such pressure to take on so much and get on with it… to “man up”. It’s not something that people feel they can always talk about.
As I said, I’ve been in a lot of workplaces where there was toxic behaviour, but this volunteer role feels like being part of a family… It honestly feels like Family Action takes people into the fold and gives them everything they need to not only help the community, but to help themselves too.
If the above has inspired you there are many ways you can support families in your community this winter. Why not explore our volunteering roles or, if you’re able, you could donate to our Make Theirs Magic Christmas campaign.