Our fourth, fifth and sixth Volunteer's Week Spirit Stories come from Beca, Al and Marie who all volunteer with Manchester Action on Street Health (MASH).
"MASH supports women engaged in prostitution (sex work). Last year MASH supported 884 women.
All the women we support are individuals and have their own reasons for sex working, however some women feel like they have less choices than others and MASH specialise in supporting and empowering these women, who often have very complex needs."
"Our volunteers come from all sorts of backgrounds and bring a variety of skills and experience. What they all have in common is a commitment to the women we work with and an incredible enthusiasm and dedication.
All of our volunteers undertake comprehensive training and receive ongoing support and supervision. Regular volunteer meetings keep everyone up to date and social events help people get to know each other."
Hello I’m Beca.
I’m 35 and I’ve lived in Manchester for over 7 years now. I’m from Romania and I have volunteered before in Romania and Africa.
I decided to volunteer at MASH because I had an awareness of sex work and the struggles that women are facing…and a bit of a guilt trip too if I’m honest. Back in Romania I’ve studied theology and across the road from our student camp there were quite a few street sex workers- every day of the year, any season, snow or unbearable heat they were there, few yards away…the religious environment I was in was of such nature that nobody would cross the road to talk or to offer support or a cup of tea or water to those women, but they’d pray for them… My guilt trip is for never having the courage to speak up for the wrong I was seeing and merely chose a complacent situation.
Volunteering at MASH
I have wanted to volunteer with MASH for many years but I let work get in the way. The day I quit my previous job I went on the MASH website and it was advertised that MASH is looking for Romanian and Hungarian volunteers and I got in touch straight away. It was a blissful moment.
I helped in the Drop-In Centre for a few months then I started Street Outreach. Meeting the Romanian service users is my main interest; building up working relationships with them, making them aware that there is help and support at MASH either regarding housing issues, immigration, health, crime reporting and if they wish, finding a different sort of job. Being able to express yourself in your native language allows for more clarity and understanding, it creates a safer, more open rapport and a lot of the times, this gives vulnerable women a chance to be reached, listened to, informed and empowered.
MASH provided in house training as well as facilitated various training with Matta regarding women in prison, LGBT foundation regarding working with trans service users, mental health etc.
At times the interaction with service users has been more emotional. MASH has a wonderful diverse team of staff, managers and volunteers open to listen and support each other. It is a strong positive environment.
The impact on me
There are many moments that have made a real impact on me: Seeing a new service user getting in touch after hearing about MASH from other sex workers; each time we give hope to a woman that is not aware of the available support is a moment of success. Less fear, less confusion, more trust and hope. This is what springs me on.
If you can spare a few hours a week, getting in touch with Dan will change your life and the lives of others. You will learn, grow, make friends and most important get to hold the hand of women in a vulnerable situation, listening, giving hope and making a real impact.
Thank you so much!
Hi, I’m Al. I am 27 years old and originally from Germany. I lived in Manchester for almost 2 years.
MASH was my first time volunteering in the UK, but as a teenager and student in Germany I volunteered in youth groups and refugee support groups.
I first heard about MASH when Helen (the Fundraiser) came to my roller derby team Arcadia Roller Derby because my teammates had raised some money for MASH. A few months later, my housemate went to the “Women in Media” Conference in spring 2015, and on the back of the programme leaflet was an advertisement for MASH. After that I got in touch.
I originally volunteered at MASH because I was working on a short documentary film for my MA about volunteers at MASH, and later conducted research for my dissertation film project. Soon I realised that I really liked volunteering so I stayed even after finishing my studies. Volunteering with MASH gave me the feeling of not just living in Manchester, but being part of this amazing city and its diverse population, being part of a community.
Primarily I volunteered in the MASH Drop-In Centre, mostly on a Wednesday evening but if my schedule allowed me, sometimes in the afternoons too. Basically I do anything necessary to make the ladies who come in feel welcome and safe, by making a cuppa or having a chat … !
Furthermore I have helped out by making a short video for a MASH crowdfunding campaign.
Some days are tough, some stories you hear or things you experience in the Centre can be hard to process. And due to confidentiality, you cannot discuss everything openly with your partner or housemates at home. But after every session at MASH there is a de-brief, where anything from the session or beyond can be discussed with other volunteers and MASH staff. And I know that all other volunteers or staff always have an open ear if something needs to get off my chest, at any time!
I have grown so much in my understanding of the diversity of human life stories; and to see far beyond my own limited world. I’ve spoken to women who faced so much adversity and so many challenges in their lives, yet they stand tall and confident and strong and make the best of what life brings them every single day. Often when I get so stuck in my own life and my problems, I recall some of the MASH ladies, and their energy just gives me so much strength.
If you are thinking about volunteering with MASH – Do it! You have a lovely support from other volunteers and staff, you can learn so much every single session, and you will contribute to making Manchester a place where people care for each other even more!
Hello, I’m Marie. I’ve been volunteering at MASH for a couple of months.
I run my own business – English Rose Bakery – that I set up with a friend, we bake and sell macaroons. It’s fantastic and I’m lucky enough work part-time now. My job before was very different – I worked with vulnerable people in the drugs service, that’s where I heard about MASH. I heard first hand from women using MASH about what a fantastic place it is and I really liked MASH’s ethos of empowering women. Now I have some free time I decided to get in touch and see if I can help.
I come in once a week to the MASH Drop-In centre, just near Piccadilly Train Station. Dan, the MASH Volunteer Co-ordinator, asked if I would be prepared to use my cooking skills so I tend to come in an hour before we open and cook a meal for the women.
I’ve discovered that its best to cook veggie food as even the meat eaters can have it and usually cook something with pasta, rice or potatoes. It’s different to cooking at home – I use less spices and try and cook something that will be suitable for fussy eaters! I’ve had mostly good feedback and have found that women who aren’t keen on the food are very upfront about it so I know what to tweak!
Since running my bakery business I really missed working with people and I really enjoy the difference I can make to someone’s day at MASH. It’s great to be able to provide a warm meal for women with little else and I think it makes the Drop-In Centre very welcoming.
MASH is keen to hear from people who would like to support them; you can read more about the organisation and ways to get involved via their website at: mash.org.uk/get-involved.