It was great to catch up with one of our recent Careers Service Equality, Diversity and Inclusion interns, Claire Allison, and hear about her volunteering experience with Samaritans.
Hi Claire, when did your interest in volunteering begin?
Alongside my studies in MA (Hons) Psychology and Linguistics, I also do voluntary work for a well-known emotional support service called Samaritans. As a Widening Participation student, I always have to be resourceful and creative to help me to get to where I want to be in my career. Voluntary work has definitely played a huge part in that, amongst other things such as my Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Research and Support Internship at the Careers Service over the summer of 2022.
I’ve volunteered for various charities my entire adult life because I always feel a sense of purpose and satisfaction from these types of roles. I chose Samaritans because I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone while doing something meaningful that would make a difference to the lives of others.
How did you find out about volunteering with Samaritans?
I applied via their website, attended information sessions and then I interviewed. The next step was quite intense (but necessary) training, followed by being assigned a mentor on shifts, then more training, then eventually I was ready to answer calls and emails on my own. The entire process from submitting the application to being an independent full Samaritan took about a year, which might sound like a long process, but there’s a lot of responsibility involved. This is a way to ensure that you are fully supported as a volunteer, and arguably, even more importantly, that the callers get the quality of emotional support that they need.
What is your working pattern?
I’m in the routine of doing one three-hour day shift a week, and a six-hour night shift once a month. I sign up for these on a rota basis, so it’s completely flexible and up to me when I sign up. This is particularly useful for student life! I also sign up for extra jobs and responsibilities around the branch, which is on top of this weekly routine. Again, it’s up to me when I do this, so I take on the extras in the holidays and reduce these over deadline season.
Tell us about your main duties.
My official title is Listening Volunteer – that’s exactly what Samaritans do. We truly listen and give people our undivided attention. It’s all about creating a safe and non-judgemental space where people can feel comfortable enough to speak openly about their thoughts and feelings, as well as the things they are going through in their lives. This can be very powerful and impactful. Samaritans believe that talking can save lives, and I believe that too. There’s no such thing as a typical call because the world is full of unique people experiencing the world in totally different ways. This means that when I pick up the phone, I have to be ready for anything. As you can imagine, I’ve gained a vast number of skills from this alone.
Samaritans is the type of charity where, if you have an interest in something, you will be completely supported, nurtured and trained to explore that role within your branch. This has been a great bonus for me in terms of developing my own skill set. I now have experience of conducting interviews, training new volunteers, giving presentations at festivals, talking to the media, and being on committees – and those are just the extras outside of my typical shifts!
What skills and knowledge have you gained from volunteering?
It’s a real privilege to be able to support people when they need it most. I’ve learned a great deal about the world through the experiences people share with me, and I’ve also learned a lot about myself. My compassion has grown, my listening skills have improved, my ability to deal with crisis situations has enhanced, and I’ve learned how to adapt and be flexible. On top of that, I’ve met so many volunteers who share my values and have become great friends.
If you are thinking about volunteering, here are my top tips:
- Find something you are truly passionate about.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for more opportunities.
- Try coming out of your comfort zone: it’ll be worth it!
- Use your voluntary role to expand your network.
- Know your limits, especially when it comes to the time you can realistically dedicate.
- Give your volunteer work the credit it deserves when you apply for jobs – highlight the skills you’ve gained and the training courses you’ve completed etc.
- Most importantly, make the most of it and enjoy it!
Thanks Claire for highlighting the valuable experience you can gain from volunteering.
Has Claire’s blog inspired you to consider volunteering? Check out our advice on volunteering.
Keep your eyes peeled on Inform.ed for more insightful student guest blog posts.