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‘Volunteering allows me to take smaller steps rather than a big leap’

Mia volunteers with St Martins for a few hours a week as part of the Validate@ programme, which uses learning and development opportunities to support people using St Martins’ services. Having never worked in a hostel setting, Mia was nervous at first and didn’t know what to expect.

“I’d never worked with homeless people before. It’s a different subset of people struggling.”

However, she soon felt at ease, “There’s no tension. Everybody is respectful and nice. Working with people is something I really wanted to do.” Mia has a diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling and has also completed a bachelor’s degree and a masters. She has other skills, including web design but was keen to do something face-to-face.

Mia suffered a head injury and is volunteering with St Martins while she recovers. She fits it in alongside her paid job. “I can take my time to learn. If you can volunteer it’s a good thing to do.”

Mia bases herself in a communal lounge in the ground floor of St Martins hostel Bishopbridge House. Originally, her role was to support people after they have attended a counselling session as they might appreciate someone to talk to. However, her support was made accessible to anyone in the hostel as there were other residents that would appreciate spending time with Mia.

Mia said, “There are some people who really want to talk and I get their full life story. Some talk about mental health, some talk about a series they’re watching on telly. Others are happy to sit quietly with me. It’s always super mellow and calm.”

One resident waited until others had gone before he began to talk. He was nervous of coming in and speaking to new people. Gradually he felt more confident as he build up a rapport with Mia.

Art materials and playdough are available so there is something to focus on and do – although art is not Mia’s thing. She said, “I’m often the worst at art in the room – there’s no pressure for it to look great. It breaks the ice if I’m making something really ugly!”

Mia has found that a voluntary role has helped her gain experience and she may consider a career in support with in the future and is not embarrassed to ask questions. She attended training alongside other volunteers on the Validate@ programme and found it beneficial to share experiences. “I left the training feeling so great. There was a hugely different age range – people like myself in their twenties and people in their 60s and 70s. We were honest and open about our weaknesses and strengths.”