In the latest of our series of blogs to mark Volunteers Week 2016, the Project Manager for the Spice Time Credit project in Chorley, Lancashire tells an inspirational story of one volunteer who is supporting those who helped her overcome her own health problems:
I met Gillian, a mum of three grown up children, a number of years ago.
She had just taken over the role of group facilitator and administrator for Time Credits at a local mental health peer support group in Chorley, Lancashire.
Time Credits has been in operation in the community via the local council since 2012 and Gillian earns hers by volunteering with a peer support group set up to help people suffering with low level mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
All members of the peer support group earn Time Credits, one credit for each hour they give voluntarily which can then be used to access activities from a range of local providers such as swimming and theatre.
When we first met, Gillian explained she had been going to the group for a while and had been receiving support from other members. Originally she was quite reluctant to attend as her condition made it very difficult for her to find the confidence to leave the house. This had left Gillian quite isolated and disconnected with the local community.
Surprised that Gillian had changed from being a reluctant member of the group to group facilitator, I asked what had made this happen.
She explained it was the earning of her Time Credits at the group which encouraged her return to receive support week after week. Turning up and earning Time Credits was enabling Gillian to access the local gym which was having a really positive effect on her physical and mental health and improving her interactions in the community.
Gillian said she experienced a great feeling after a session in the gym and this provided the incentive to keep attending. Gillian’s confidence continued to grow and when the opportunity to become the group facilitator came up she rose to the challenge.
Gillian’s doctor says that going to the gym is helping her lose weight and opened doors for her in terms of talking to her neighbours. One neighbour she takes pleasure in gifting her spare Time Credits to so that he can go to the Ballroom at Blackpool Tower. Helping others makes Gillian feel great – another really positive aspect of earning Time Credits.
Gillian’s progress through volunteering and sharing her knowledge has been amazing. She has increased the peer support group’s capacity to help more people by delivering additional sessions, which also means that people spend less time on the waiting list.
She has also set up a peer support group for people struggling with any form of weight management using her own experience and knowledge. Gillian has accessed training and created resources and materials to enable her do this well and is using Time Credits to hire the room and use specialist speakers, as well as allowing others to access the group with Time Credits they have earned. This has helped to remove financial and confidence barriers that can be associated with other more formal weight loss groups.
Recognition for Gillian’s story came recently when it was chosen by Public Health England as part of a health inequalities campaign. Gillian worked with a researcher and professional film maker to share her story, but it doesn’t stop there.
From a lady who only a few years ago found just leaving the house was an immense and sometimes unachievable task, Gillian has gone on to become a figure head for Time Credits and peer support in Lancashire. She has spoken at a number of formal events in the North West in front of up to 70 people from public services, local business, health, government and other community organisations.
Not being afraid to share her story is truly inspirational as is her continued commitment to promoting and encouraging peer-support as an effective way of helping others in their own recovery journey.