When people turn up for a counselling or art session at St Martins, they are greeted with a friendly smile from Jason, who conveys a warm welcome even behind a face mask and barrage of hand sanitiser upon entry.
Jason volunteers for St Martins twice a week to help people attending wellbeing activities at the charity’s learning and development centre, including art and counselling sessions.
Jason himself was supported by St Martins 11 years ago. He lived in temporary accommodation on Coslany Street, did an alcohol detox at Carrow Hill and also lived in a shared house run by St Martins.
Jason grew up in a dysfunctional family and has a history of anxiety and depression. He has travelled the world and settled in Norwich in recent years to be near his daughter.
His experience makes him well placed to be a volunteer. He understands the social implications that poor mental health and addiction can have. He said, “I reached that point in my life. I’ve moved away from alcohol. I was tired of being tired.” Jason has volunteered for various charities and happened to contact St Martins as the DCMS National Lottery funded lottery project on wellbeing during covid started. Jason is a trained chef and is considering his career options. He said, “After lockdown I’ve got to do something useful. I don’t want to go back to cheffing. I want to give something back at the same time.”
Jason is open about his past in his capacity as a volunteer. He said, “You’ve got to be authentic. They want a real person.”
He believes the most important attributes of a volunteer are empathy, patience, tolerance and consistency. While a qualified counsellor leads the professional sessions, Jason is on hand to support people as they come to the centre or if they wish to talk. “Even if it’s just making a cup of tea for people or a follow-up call if we pick up that they might be distressed. I could spend an hour with someone and if they go away feeling better and more confident, then it’s all good.”
He said, “For me, it brings connection as well. It gives me another sense of purpose. I like to listen and understand people and that gives me satisfaction.”
As a homelessness charity, St Martins is known for putting a roof over peoples’ heads. However, the charity’s responsibility doesn’t end there; it is not good for people to have a place to live, but to sit in isolation. Jason said, “We need to attend to mental health. Especially during lockdown. People need to be active. They need human contact. There are people on meds at home in front of the TV. It’s lonely. They need human stimulation. We all know what it’s like to be lonely.”
St Martins wellbeing project provides activities to support the health and wellbeing of homeless people whose support needs have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Activities on offer include professional counselling, art, yoga, music and gardening.
Pictured: Jason Burgess at Under 1 Roof, St Martins’ Learning and Development Centre.