In December 2007, my life changed forever when I became a volunteer befriender with Renfrewshire Carers Centre.
My journey began in December 2006 when the editor of the paper I worked for called The Paisley Extra asked me to spend the Christmas holidays thinking of a campaign that would engage my readers. My wife and I were looking forward to our first Christmas as parents and in-between spending precious time with our new baby and the rest of our families, I wracked my brain for a campaign to ignite people’s hearts and minds.
I wanted something different from the previous things our paper had become involved with like anti-litter, green cross code or anti-bullying messages.
The idea finally came to me and I decided to become a volunteer and write about my experiences in the paper to encourage other people to become volunteers.
I wrote about different volunteer groups each week in the paper for ‘The Lend an Extra Hand’ Campaign and there was a code at the bottom of each article with a phone number for Volunteer Scotland. Anyone wishing to become a volunteer called up and quoted the code. In my six months of writing about volunteer groups I recruited 12 volunteers to different organisations.
Volunteering Scotland put me in touch with Renfrewshire Carers Centre and in addition to writing about other organisations I wrote about my experiences learning to become a Volunteer Befriender with Renfrewshire Carers Centre.
Once my Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) check was complete and the Scottish Government was satisfied I was not a risk to anyone, I began my three months training with Renfrewshire Carers Group.
I reported to Marie and Katie every Thursday and along with the small class of other would be befrienders, we learned about a range of topics relevant to the befriending process. Each week we would discuss different mental health conditions like autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) or schizophrenia.
Another important part of the training was learning about the vital role Carers play in helping loved ones survive. It was easy for a grown up to be brought to tears having being explained how a young eight-year-old was the sole Carer for their stroke victim father after the mother had passed on due to illness.
After my training I completed some voluntary work at the Viking Centre in Paisley where I worked with children with ADHD.I helped them play games like indoor hockey and football. It was a rewarding experience and I enjoyed the company of the wild young boys and girls.
In December 2007 I was allocated to a befriending family in Paisley. They asked not to be named for this article and for data protection purposes I shall not reveal their identities.
Mother and father were in their sixties when I began befriending with them and they provided 24/7 care for their son who has schizophrenia. My visits allowed them to go for a meal and enjoy some respite while I stayed with the son who was in his thirties.
Dad always made the son and me a delicious meal before the parents would give us a lift to the Showcase Pictures and we’d watch a film. The son had a penchant for Horror movies and I have to say sometimes I was scared stiff when we left the movie. He was fine.
Once I learned to drive in 2008, I would drive the son to the pictures after we’d had our curry, pizza or fry up. One of the things the mother stressed to me when I first met the family was that I must always come when I said I was going to otherwise the son would be expecting me and be devastated at my non-arrival. I never missed a visit.
My visits allowed the parents precious moments together and they always stressed how grateful they were for me giving up my time. It was absolutely my pleasure. I volunteered with the family from 2007 up until the Covid epidemic in 2020.
Over the 13 years I built up a solid relationship with all three members of the family. In 2010 the son relapsed and had a serious episode that meant he had to spend some time in Dykebar hospital. I visited him there on occasion.
I went through a lot of personal changes in the time I spent volunteering. My wife and two boys moved from a flat in the East End of Glasgow to a house in Ayrshire. In 2010 I stopped working as journalist and became a stay-at-home father. In 2012 my third son was born and in 2018 I went to University and graduated with a Post Graduate Diploma in Careers Advice and Guidance. I now work as a work coach with East Ayrshire Council, helping refugees find suitable employment.
The family went through a lot too. Both parents battled cancer and their other son had a family of his own. The son I looked after loved being an uncle while the parents were very proud grandparents.
The son and I became close after I gained his trust. The parents and I have a close bond too. I no longer do one to one befriending with the family because the parents became too ill to look after their son and he is now in a care home in Glasgow. However, I still volunteer for the Carers Centre by offering the family support by telephone befriending and speak to them all frequently via the phone and enjoying catching up with their news and having a laugh.
I am very busy with my job now, but I may return to volunteer befriending on a one-to-one basis again in the future. Giving up one night a month to help people has been the most rewarding experience of my life.