The power of peer-volunteering: Life Recovery’s Deputy Manager Vicki Saunders and peer-volunteer Nikki share their experience of working together to deliver the Life Course.
Volunteering can be life-changing, as many inHope volunteers will testify. Giving time to help others can provide people with a purpose, self-value and a sense of community. The route into volunteering can be wide and varied. Some people look for volunteering opportunities. Others volunteer through their workplace. Many are invited through a friend, or a contact at their church.
When Nikki was asked to volunteer with Life Recovery, it was an area of work that she already knew lots about, having been a participant in the Life Course in the autumn of 2020. “I really enjoyed doing the course. But after I finished I was struggling a little bit and needed something else to do. I always felt like I wanted to work in this kind of service, with people. When Vicki asked me to help, I thought it would be really good and that it would give me a bit of structure.”
Her previous experience as a participant and her lived experience added another dimension to Life Course facilitation, helping bringing the content to life. “I just kind of chimed in with my experiences when I thought there was something helpful I could say,” said Nikki modestly. With the course taking place on Zoom, due to a coronavirus lockdown, Nikki would lead discussions within breakout rooms, facilitating and guiding the participants through the course material. “When participants gave feedback [at the end of the course], they said it was quite nice that somebody had been through it themselves.”
Nikki’s volunteering didn’t stop at the end of that Life Course. “I’m going to lead the next course with Ant which I’m looking forward to. That will be a face to face course. And I’ve been sitting in on assessments for people who have applied to go on the course.”
It’s a beautiful thing.
Nikki’s peer-volunteering role has made an incredible difference to the Life Course, as Vicki explained. “There’s nothing more powerful than the voice of someone who has experienced the Life Course. It’s all well and good us teaching the course, but having somebody who has experienced it themselves come back and share their experience with others really helps participants to feel at ease. A lot of it has been about lived experience, including adding that first-hand perspective to the sessions. We’ve built a relationship with Nikki as a volunteer, where we’ve been able to talk about the course material – finding out what’s helpful and what isn’t.
For me, it’s just a beautiful thing to see how far Nikki’s come from the course. We didn’t really talk lots on the course, but I just had a vision that God was going to do some really good things with her life and that he was calling her to get involved.”
Nikki agrees that she’s gain a lot from volunteering. “It was really rewarding. I got a lot of satisfaction out of it. I think it’s really important to use your past to help people – I’ve always had a strong sense of the importance of using your experiences to help something good come from it.
I think as well that volunteering has helped with my own confidence. It’s given me the experience of being in this sort of environment and reaffirming what I want to do. It’s really helped for me to figure out that I definitely want to work with people.”
It turns out that co-leading a Life Course with Vicki was only the start. Along with co-leading the next course (with Deputy Manager Ant Newman), Nikki’s been involved in supporting a new after-care group, for participants who have completed a Life Course.
Vicki explained, “Today was our first after-care group. This is something that’s new to Life Recovery. It’s a very relaxed session without a real structure, but just an opportunity to find out how they’ve been getting on. Some of their feedback is about how much they want to get involved with the things that Life Recovery is doing, and the wider work of inHope.
We’ve been really clear with Nikki that this is quite early days for Life Recovery to be doing this sort of work. So Nikki’s been a bit of a guinea pig. As she’s been working with us, we’ve been developing our policies and procedures that help us to put things in place so that we can have more peer support volunteers helping in this way giving them the best volunteering experience.”
A really positive future.
Vicki is full of praise for how Nikki has approached her role. “I’d like to say thank you to Nikki for giving us the pleasure of coming in and helping and serving other people, and using her lived experience. It’s been such a pleasure to have her with us and we feel really blessed to have her as a peer-volunteer within the team. She’s come with the skills already and has been amazing with the clients.
It’s helped Nikki to explore other opportunities, and she’s now going to go on to do some training with another organisation in this area of work. The future for her is going to be really positive.”
Nikki starts her training in September, and once that’s completed she can begin a peer support role. Although this means she’ll have to stop volunteering with Life Recovery, she will take good memories with her. In particular, having co-led a course that met mostly on Zoom she enjoyed a group trip to try some archery.
“When I took part in the course it was in person and you kind of build relationships with people, and you can talk in the break and it helps people to feel more comfortable. On Zoom you’ve not got that, so it was really nice to go out and do archery and to see the group all together.
One of the guys was talking at that last session, and he could remember so much stuff from the course. Sometimes you think he wasn’t paying attention, so it’s really nice to see that he has been taking it in.”
And Nikki is full of encouragement for anyone else who was thinking about volunteering. “I would definitely say to just do it! You get so much from it, and I’ve always felt so comfortable being in the office and part of the team. It’s just a nice environment and it’s been lovely.”