Volunteering can bring enormous benefits from boosting confidence to learning new skills. Workingmums.co.uk talked to Lynn Eldred about the challenges and benefits of being a volunteer and how to combine the role with being a mum and full-time worker.
Lynn has two sons, Adam, 16, and thirteen-year-old Matt. She is a single mum who holds down a full-time job as a Personal Assistant (PA) within a manufacturing outfit. For Lynn, it was the desire to learn something new and the opportunity to give something back that drove her to volunteering.
“I started by undertaking a training course with Cruse, the charity I work for. It was in the evenings so I could fit it around work initially,” says Lynn.
Cruse is a charity which offers advice and support to bereaved people, both one to one and in groups. The awareness in bereavement care course required 60 hours of study before she was accepted to work with and for bereaved people. Lynn also undertook a number of placements as part of her counselling training for a range of charities. “I did one for a primary school and my work were really supportive,” she says. ‘’I cut down my hours from five days a week to four but that meant that I basically had to do my job in four days,” laughs Lynn, who has since gone back to a full-time post.
With the training under her belt, Lynn was ready to start visiting bereaved people in their homes. “I’d never done any volunteering before but I loved it immediately. I’ve met so many people that I would never have had the opportunity to meet either through my normal social circles or at work,” says Lynn.
Volunteering for Cruse takes up around an hour a week outside of work hours and Lynn has now been working for the charity for three years and views it as an essential part of her life. “It contributes to my sense of happiness and wellbeing,’’ she says. ‘’I hope to have some sense of volunteering always in my life.’’
As a PA, Lynn admits that she spends much of the day behind a computer and answering the phone – volunteering gives her the opportunity to spend face-to-face time with people. Even though it is often under difficult circumstances, she welcomes the opportunity to do something totally different to her normal day-to-day work.
For Lynn, it’s important that her volunteering work is also something that is tangibly different to the paid work she does as a PA.“It brings me a sense of something totally different to my work – it’s something that I do that is just not simply about being paid,” she says.
Of course volunteering requires time and whilst Lynn says that currently it takes just one hour or so a week there’s also travelling to people’s homes. But the effort is still worth it. She says: “I volunteer in the local area so that cuts down any unnecessary travelling time. There is an element of juggling and, for example, last weekend I undertook a training course with Cruse to visit bereaved children so I had to put that time aside – but it’s all worth it.”
Listening is a huge part of the work that Lynn does as a volunteer for Cruse. The people she visits may talk about how they are feeling or about things that happened in the past. Sometimes they are surprised by what they do talk about and how things can make sense in a way they had not expected. Lynn says that part of being a listener is to ensure she puts her own feelings to one side when she is with the client, something that without the training she may have found difficult.
Lynn admits that volunteering has brought some great skills that have helped her in her journey as a mum and also as an employee. “It does help me put a perspective on my life. I might go and visit a bereaved person and then I’ll think about something that I was worrying about and realise I was getting worked up about nothing. I know that all these things we worry about will pass.”
It has also helped her instil the values she holds dear to her boys: “They might say to me ‘oh mum,’ when I go off to do my volunteering because I guess it’s time away from them, but I think they now understand what it is to share.”
Lynn hopes that in the long-term she will get some paid counselling work but this isn’t what really drives her because she is so passionate about helping others and giving something back. She is just as happy to do it for no recompense and she is so grateful for the things it has brought to her life and her family that she has no intention of giving it up at this stage.
Cruse welcomes volunteers from all walks of life and accepts initial applications, like Lynn’s, from those with no qualifications or previous experience.