At WECIL, our volunteers are at the heart of what we do, they have an incredible impact on both our services and the Disabled people that we support. Our befriending service offers 1:1 support, where our brilliant Befrienders support socially isolated children, taking them out for activities to enjoy shared interests, whilst also giving parents and carers the opportunity to take a break from caring responsibilities. The impact that we’ve seen from these relationships has been incredible so we wanted to shine a light on one of our long-standing volunteers to tell her story.
Cress has been volunteering with WECIL for 10 years and since then has worked with two families to support their child. We speak to Cress to find out what volunteering means to her.
Could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Cress and I live in Bristol now with my boyfriend and dog and previously lived in Bath for 12 years. I’ve been volunteering with WECIL for ten years, starting with a young person who was 17 at the time and has a learning disability and then in 2018 once she turned 21, I moved on to work with another young person, this time a 13-year-old boy named Ioan who has physical and developmental disabilities caused by life-saving treatment for brain cancer that he received when he was younger. When not volunteering, I run a business called Fun Science running science themed workshops, clubs and birthday parties for primary school aged children.
What inspired you to become a volunteer at WECIL?
I started volunteering for WECIL (which was known as time2share at the time) in the summer of 2013. I had just graduated from Bath Spa university and was looking for ways to connect more with the place that I was living (Bath). When you are at University it is very easy to only really spend time with other students and I wanted a way to meet people from other walks of life. I had recently started my business and through this had gained some experience working with children with additional needs and knew that it was something I was passionate about.
How do you fit your volunteering into everyday life?
I currently meet up with Ioan once a week after work. In my first few sessions with Ioan we played with Lego and some of Ioan’s toy superheroes. I then mentioned to Ioan’s mum what I do as a job and the next week I brought along some slime making which Ioan loved! From then on, I started bringing along some of the activities that I do at work and Ioan and I have done all sorts of things including chemical reactions, launching rockets and making lots more slime! It’s great to be able to share the things I enjoy doing in a slightly different way.
Me and Ioan also both really enjoy the theatre so we’ve been to see a pantomime and the circus together and Ioan and his family have come to see me in pantomimes as well. Ioan loves slapstick humour and is a brilliant theatre companion!
Can you share a story or example of how your volunteer work has positively impacted the people that you have worked with?
The first person I was linked with was quite often getting into trouble with the police and some of her friends weren’t a very good influence on her. She was very keen to be liked and is very kind which made her very vulnerable. At one point within the 4 years that I was linked with her, she was living in temporary foster care and supported accommodation and I was able to be a stable influence in her life during this time. I think it was good for her to have a friend that liked her just for who she is rather than one that would try and get her into trouble. She wanted to work with animals in the future so I was able to support her with becoming a volunteer dog walker at the Bath cats and dogs home. I continued meeting with this young person until she turned 21 and she has recently been in touch to let me know that she is expecting her first child with her fiancé and I couldn’t be happier for her. I am so proud to have been a small part of her journey.
What are some of the personal skills you’ve gained or improved upon during your 10-year journey as a volunteer with WECIL?
I started volunteering with WECIL hoping it would give me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and it has definitely done that. It’s been great getting to know Ioan’s family, the team at WECIL and other volunteers through volunteer socials. I’d have to say though that the best experience has been getting to know both young people and learning from their unique and great ways of seeing the world. One of the things I really enjoy about working with Ioan is that he has a brilliant sense of humour and takes a lot of joy from just being silly and playing. When I work in mainstream settings, children often need a lot of input or wow-factor to be impressed but Ioan has taught me to slow down and enjoy the little things like dropping a toy superhero in water and seeing what happens (we still like superheroes!)
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a volunteer?
You don’t need to have any special skills or loads of time available to become a befriender. Something that may seem simple to you like taking a child to the park, reading a story with them or just playing a game for an hour a week can make a huge difference to that child and also their family. Get in touch with the team at WECIL and find out more about the process. If you are unsure or feel that there are some ages that you’d be more comfortable with than others then that’s something they will take into account and they will work with you to find a match that you are comfortable with. Everything will be taken at a pace that you are comfortable with.
So if you have any spare time and are looking for a rewarding role where you can meet new friends and make a difference, please sign up! You can apply via our application form or email us at: [email protected] for more information.