This week is Volunteer Week – when charities across the country say thank you and showcase the amazing work of their committed volunteers. We asked one of our brilliant helpline volunteers to share their experiences of working with us. In this blog our volunteer (who we’re keeping anonymous to protect their privacy) shares their reflections on what volunteering has meant to them, and the impact of the last year on people with criminal records.
In 2019, having been in a profession I loved for the last ten years, I had to resign from my job as someone in the company found out about my historic conviction that was 12 years old at the time. Even though the relevant people already knew about it when I started, I still had to resign for the safety of my family.
With no job I landed at the door of the Job Centre and the debacle that was Universal Credit, with a job coach that did not know what to do with me, we just went through the usual process. Being on the job scrap heap I decided to see what was out there I could do, and decided to see if there was any volunteer work I could do. I had always known about Unlock as I had used their helpline in the past, so when I saw on their website they were looking for volunteers, I sent off my application.
Having successfully completed the interview I started as soon as I could, it was a weight off my shoulders to finally work for an organisation that did not care about my past and saw me for the skills and abilities I could bring to the organisation. For the first time in a long time I was not having to continually look over my shoulder worrying that someone from my past might recognise me.
Before being let loose full training was given in all aspects of subjects that come across the helpline, and training on how to answer enquires that are received. What I found important was that you were not just thrown in the deep end and made to swim; the training was at the pace of the person undertaking it. Once my training was completed I started off answering emails and letters under supervision, then once I had accomplished this I moved onto the telephone. With my first day taking calls fast approaching the butterflies in my stomach were doing cart wheels, but with the training and support that was given by experienced team members these butterflies soon passed.
This role has been extremely thought provoking. While offering advice and guidance to not only people with criminal records but also external stakeholders, it has made me realise how much support is required and how much at times the help is not there for individuals, and how many individuals face disadvantage and discrimination.
While assisting on the charity’s helpline I have also assisted in a number of research tasks, including looking at housing policies of councils within the UK and how they affect a person with a criminal conviction.
This insight along with the skills and knowledge I have gained in offering advice and guidance to people that contact the charity has made me see how important advocating for change is, and the job that we do helps a sector of society that is greatly penalised by the communities they live within.
The skills and abilities I have gained have come to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic. The learning curve increased greatly in having to undertake remote working to ensure with other staff members that the helpline has been fully active and contactable to the public. This has included tracking criminal justice and Government websites for changes in legislation announced during the lockdown, for instance identifying changes to security vetting procedures and also the impact a person under ROTL has dealt with the implementation of the furlough scheme, and ensuring that this is correctly communicated.
My work on the helpline continues as we get ready to return back to the office, and reflecting back I am thankful for the opportunities I have been given in learning new skills and abilities and will continue to volunteer for a long as I can. When volunteering you feel you have a purpose in life, when most other people turn their back on you. There is a great satisfaction when you realise that you have helped someone and you can hear in their voice or through the tears over the phone how much the advice and guidance you have given them has made such an impact on their life and helped in the problem they have called you about.