Through the Eyes of a Volunteer
Find out what it’s REALLY like to be a volunteer in the Rehabilitation Centre here at Headway Shropshire as Michael, one of our fundraisers, talks to Sally, a long-serving volunteer in the Headway Shropshire Rehabilitation Centre…
So Sally, how long have you been a volunteer at Headway Shropshire?
I think it’s 17 years this year.
And what sort of things have you done here?
Well, we used to come in and do everything – anything – you know, if washing up needed doing, and then it was suggested ‘Well why don’t we use your talents?”, so I do cognitive work because I was a primary school teacher – reading; I’m not so hot on the numbers, so it’s mostly reading, and cognitive exercises, that sort of thing. And at the moment I’ve have two clients that I work with one morning each week.
One is aphasic, so he has difficulties reading and talking; and the other one reads very well, but her sight’s been poor, and she doesn’t remember it, so she’s got memory problems but she can read very well in fact.
So do you find that you tend to read the same things more than once to help it sink in?
Well, my one client’s reading though a favourite series of books at the moment. She just wants to re-read them all because she’s read them before, but doesn’t remember any of them. But she’s getting better at remembering, because I’ll go back two or three pages, ‘Oh yes’, she says, ‘I remember that, and then he does so-and-so’, and I say ‘So you see you ARE beginning to remember’.
As for the other client I work with, he has great difficulty with speaking and gets very frustrated, and I’ll say things like ‘Well, try and go round a different way, instead of trying to do it the way you’re doing it’, and it works sometimes.
We also chat quite a lot of the time. His wife’s got a book that she sends with him, where she writes down what he’s done during the week, so it’s something to talk about from home, which I think is good.
So over time then, do you notice a progression?
Well there certainly has been with him, yes. When he first came he stood and watched for ages, but I’ve noticed we have another chap who comes along who has a similar problem, and they are now talking to each other, and a year ago they weren’t. So he’s more relaxed.
You say a year ago they weren’t talking to each other?
Not in the way they are now.
Is that the timescale you find is common for seeing progression?
No, everybody’s different you see, it’s very difficult to put a timing on anything, because every brain injury is different.
So from the clients’ point of view, what would you say are the main benefits of coming here?
I would think a lot of it is social, to start with anyway, because some of our clients are living alone, or they’ve got problems at home, and I think the social side is very important. I used to say to the manager here, ‘I haven’t done much today’ and she’d said, ‘Yes you have – social interaction’, and that’s just as important. Often if clients don’t feel like doing any activities, they still want to have chats, especially if they’ve no-one at home to chat to, and even if they’ve got a wife or a husband they’re probably out anyway, so they’re on their own all day.
Do you find you have to push the clients much to get them involved in doing things?
No, you can’t do that. You can’t make clients do things. It often comes from them, when they want to do something like reading or something like that. Then the volunteer organiser will approach me and say how about doing something with so-and-so, and I’ll say ‘yes, fine’ and we go from there.
There was one chap, he’d never painted. His wife was an artist, and he said, ‘Oh no, I just do the frames’ (because I think he was a joiner or carpenter). He’d never painted before and yet he did the most beautiful watercolours, which is one of the most difficult things to do, and I thought, if he hadn’t come to Headway, he’d never have done that.
Apart from the activities, do you think on the social side that confidence increases as people attend?
Yes, I think it does, as people get to know each other. There’s a chap who comes on a Tuesday, and I can remember his face when he came in, as if to say ‘What on earth am I doing here?’ So you find at first that some people have a hard time accepting it, but he soon settled in!
And what can you say to people to give them comfort and support in that situation?
It’s difficult. We talk, and I’ll say, ‘What happened to you?’ and ‘What did you do before?’ and things like that. And then I can say, ‘Well, you’ve done that, and nobody can take that away from you.’
What’s the most rewarding thing about being a volunteer at Headway?
I think making friends really. There are a lot of lovely people. Not everybody gets on with everybody else; that’s life. It is rewarding when you see improvements, like when a client says, ‘I can’t remember a thing I read last week’ and then she starts reading and she says ‘Oh yes, I DO remember this!’ and you think – well things are beginning to improve. There’s always something, or you make someone laugh, that sort of thing.
What sort of advice would you give to someone if they are thinking of becoming a volunteer at Headway Shropshire?
Well one thing I would say is – do it, and don’t come and go, because we’ve had people who have come and not stayed, which is difficult for the clients, because they really like continuity.
Also, one of the problems with aphasia, which a lot of brain-injured people have, is that if they’re around people who are talking like we are, by the time they’ve got it sorted in their heads, you’re onto the next thing! So it’s important to speak more slowly, leave pauses. You have to think about that.
And how do you see things developing here in the future?
Well, more money is always needed. But it’s really nice to see that the atmosphere in the building is positive and happy, and that’s something that has survived despite all the challenges and changes over the years.
Well, thanks Sally for your time and for a very detailed insight into Headway Shropshire “through the eyes of a volunteer”.