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Keep calm and volunteer

Unlock has been really fortunate over the years to find so many generous people that are willing to give their time and talents to help others. Here Roger tells us what he’s gained from his volunteering experience at Unlock.

As many of us know, getting a job with a criminal record can be hard and that was the position I found myself in several years ago. Getting those letters thanking me for my interest but telling me that my application wouldn’t be progressed was heart-breaking but even worse, were the employers that never even acknowledged them. A year of filling in forms or sending off my CV had seriously started to impact on my mental health and so, I decided to find myself a voluntary role.

Hallelujah, I found Unlock who were looking for a helpline advisor. As the helpline provided a peer-delivered service, for once my conviction was treated positively. The interview went well and before long, I’d started my training. Although it was interesting, it was also intensive and there were days when I left the office thinking that my brain was going to explode.

It probably took about 3 months before I felt confident in dealing with the majority of issues that people contacted us about although, it’s a constant learning process.

I currently volunteer on two days a week. The process of getting up and ready for work has added some routine and normality to my life and gives me a sense of purpose.

Some of the calls we take can be emotionally draining and when its busy it can feel quite stressful. However, knowing that the information or advice I’m giving will empower somebody to make well thought out, reasoned decisions is so rewarding. Just imagine somebody telling you:

“I can’t thank you enough for your help, you’ve just changed my life.”

Then back in March, we were hit by the pandemic and Boris told us all to ‘work from home’. We knew it was coming and the helpline was pretty well prepared. Although the number of people contacting us dropped, so too did the number of helpline advisors that were available to respond to enquiries. The helpline telephone landline was redirected to a mobile phone and all phone calls were answered by one advisor with one other responding to emails. Overnight we’d gone from 3 or 4 advisors each day to just 2.

Although the helpline was open throughout the lock-down, it was a very strange way of working and we were all relieved when we were able to return to the office at the start of July. The number of people contacting the helpline had started to increase and relying on just one advisor to answer all the telephone calls was putting them under a lot of pressure.

The need for social distancing means that there are still only 2 advisors in the office each day but it feels so good to have that interaction with colleagues. We’re receiving lots of calls from people who, as a result of the pandemic, have lost their jobs and are now looking for new positions (for some this will be the first time in many years and the first time they’ll have needed to disclose their criminal record).

These are indeed worrying times for all.

As I said at the start of my article, unemployment really did impact on my mental health but volunteering for Unlock was my salvation. We all know that survival is difficult without money and volunteering isn’t going to fill that need. However, if you find yourself struggling with feelings of anxiety, self-doubt or depression then I’d recommend getting in touch with your local volunteer centre to find out whether there’s anything available that ‘floats your boat’.

By Roger (name changed to protect identity)

A comment from Unlock

We’d like to thank all of our volunteers both past and present for the work they’ve done and continue to do.

For many people volunteering is a positive and rewarding experience. It can help to boost self-confidence and self-esteem and if you’re looking for paid employment, adding it to your CV can make you stand out and look more attractive to potential employers.

Unlock’s volunteer programme for people with convictions has been running for many years and in that time, we’ve seen our volunteers go on to study for degrees at university, move into paid work or take on other volunteering roles. If you’re interested in joining our small, friendly team, take a look at the opportunities we have available here.

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below.
  • Information – We have practical self-help information on volunteering and you can find out more about the current vacancies we have at Unlock here.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussion related to volunteering on our online forum.

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