What led you to volunteering with Bridewell?
After a long career as a social worker, I retired and then I did full-time childcare. It was all pretty full on and then nothing. So I wanted a purpose because I had really enjoyed my job. I had done some volunteering a long time ago and thought I’d try it again. I’m particularly interested in mental health.
One day I was in Sainsbury’s and there was a fundraiser for Bridewell. I got talking to them and thought ‘what a fantastic place it sounds like’. I thought, had I known about a similar place near to where I’d worked I could have referred people on. That sparked my interest and I thought I must have picked up some relevant skills and experience and could put that to good use. Also it was about helping others and making a difference – it was all about that.
What skills do you think you need to volunteer at Bridewell?
You need interpersonal skills, active listening to people, the ability to maintain boundaries, confidentiality, always willing to learn new skills, take on training and new information.
Good observational skills are necessary as it’s important to recognize the very small steps that people are making towards recovery. They can be things that people wouldn’t recognize as big things, for example, just getting here can be massive and all the small changes together are actually big changes.
What qualities do you think a Bridewell volunteer needs?
To have an interest in mental health, the outdoors and nature. You don’t have to be particularly good at gardening – I’m rubbish! – but you learn those skills because everybody is learning anyway. A willingness to learn, reliability is very important, being non-judgmental, working in a team to provide a safe environment.
One of the things that gardeners tell me is how safe it feels. Being approachable, having a sense of humour is really helpful, also being sensitive to the needs of others – to gardeners, volunteers, the staff, the whole team.
What do you find most rewarding about the role?
What’s really rewarding about this place is being part of an organisation that has demonstrated and proven positive outcomes. To be part of that is very rewarding. Just driving here in the morning, when you come to the top of the hill and head down the lane and you look down and see the gardens and that is the start of the day. That is so rewarding because this is the place where good things happen.
Being part of a supportive team. For me, witnessing the growth of gardeners is so rewarding, from turning up on that first day which is massive and then you ask ‘how has your day been?’ and they’ll say ‘I’ve really enjoyed it – it’s been wonderful’ or ‘I love this place, I feel safe here’. Just seeing that look on someone's face, that smile and maybe in the morning you’ve seen that look of anxiety and sheer terror, to see that change is so rewarding.