As you may be aware we recently celebrated ‘Student Volunteering Week 2017’ and as part of the week we invited guests to share their volunteering stories with us via our blog.
The posts were great and it was really interesting to learn about the impact volunteering had, in particular, on the career choices for those involved.
This became a talking point in the office and we quickly realised that volunteering had been influential in helping to shape the career paths for most of us too. The stories in the office were too good not to share and so we decided to create a mini-series of blog posts that we want to share with you over the next couple of weeks.
To begin with we have Claire Tomkinson. Claire is the Wellbeing Development Lead here at Macc and has been with us since January 2016. Read how Claire went from being a happy and confident person to feeling lonely and isolated and how she turned it around.
In 2008 I was working full time, had a great job that I loved, lots of friends and a packed social life. In September that year I became a Mum for the first time to an amazing little boy with developmental dysplasia of the hip. Not a serious condition, but at eight months old we were told that he would require hip surgery which would result in him being in a full body plaster cast for 4 months, plus received the news from my employer that they were starting a programme of voluntary redundancy and that I needed to discuss my options.
In one day everything changed and I found myself being a full time Mum to a child that suddenly needed tons more love and support. This wasn’t part of the plan, and although I loved having the extra time with my child I suddenly felt like a massive failure as a Mum and blamed myself for his medical condition and our family’s loss of income. My friends and husband were still there and brilliant, but the loss of my salary had a big impact on my social life and I still found myself alone every day while everyone else was at work and developing their careers. I remember looking at page after page of a diary that contained nothing but medical appointments and wondered who on earth I was and what I was supposed to do. I was the last person that I would ever expect to feel so lonely, isolated and pointless. What shocked me was how quick this happened while everyone around me thought I was so lucky.
I filled this gap by starting to attend every baby activity on offer at my local Sure Start Centre. I would never have been on a list of ‘targeted families’ but this and the wonderful new Mum friends that I met really saved me. I gradually re-built my confidence and started to talk to people and make new friends. After a while one of the staff spoke to me about helping to set up a Parents Group and asked me what I thought. For the first time it felt like someone had seen something in me that I had forgotten existed. We had a chat about who I was and what I did before I became a Mum and I became very aware of the presumption that existed in my area. I was a full time Mum attending Sure Start activities in Clayton, East Manchester and the general feeling was that this meant that I was unemployed, uneducated, dependent on benefits with nothing to offer or contribute.
I wanted to challenge this, so signed up as a volunteer and set up a community led Parents Group. I then became Chair of the Advisory Board and set up a group to re-open our library as a community led facility after it was closed in the first round of budget cuts. We raised additional funding, recruited a team of volunteers, partnered with Z Arts to bring children’s theatre direct to local communities and set something up that is still exists and is self-sustaining and well used today.
When the time came to return to employment I had something to talk about, new connections and some brilliant references. I wouldn’t be sitting here in my role at Macc today if it wasn’t for volunteering and three key people who had faith in me and gave me a chance and an opportunity when I needed it.