By our Volunteer Coordinator, Siȃn Finn
I recently had my one-year work anniversary as the Volunteer Coordinator at Birmingham LGBT. It has been an incredible year for the volunteering programme. We started the year with the first cohort attending core training in January and follow up training for peer mentoring in March, just two weeks before the first lockdown. Little did we know how the rest of the year would transpire. Since then, we have been able to progress volunteers in peer mentoring, befriending and online group facilitation/ activity roles.
The challenge at the start of lockdown was to adapt our core training to run online, which we did using Zoom to deliver three two-hour training sessions. This was an entirely new way of delivering training for myself and my colleagues. Our dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers jumped online and contributed brilliantly with patience, bringing their own insight and skills to the training.
Due to the impact of Covid-19 on the LGBT+ community, we recognised the need for a befriending service which was launched at the end of May. We were able to train our existing and new volunteers to offer weekly light-hearted befriending calls to socially isolated members of the LGBT community. At this time of year people are usually gearing up for Christmas parties and gatherings with friends, family and loved ones. The festive period can be hard for people in our community due to living alone or not being out to their families. Not having regular access to our social circles or the means and capacity to build our social networks can make us feel disconnected. It is important to reach out if you recognise that you are feeling lonely and/ or isolated and not being ashamed of those feelings.
This year we matched 11 volunteers to participants on our peer mentoring programme. Our participants had a range of areas they wanted support on, including positive reinforcement of gender identity, concerns around coming out and breaking the cycle of meaningless relationships. While our volunteers are not expected to solve all the issues their participants face, they can make a significant difference to an individual’s wellbeing by suggesting ways of approaching and tackling complex problems in a safe and non-judgemental environment. We know how important it is to stay connected to each other during these trying times and welcome anyone to get in touch if you are interested in our volunteer-led befriending and peer mentoring services.
Our volunteering team have been able to support our Sexual Health Outreach staff too, through helping them prepare content and host our online social groups and events. We have even had one of our volunteers support me with delivering our online volunteer training to our new volunteers.
During Volunteers’ Week in June we like to show appreciation to our volunteers with a celebration event. This year was no exception with 14 volunteers and staff attending an online performance of Brummie Drag King Don One. Last Friday, a group of volunteers and staff welcomed Don One back for a Christmas Cracker of a show, which left us smiling and laughing throughout the evening.
Personally, I would like to thank all the volunteers for making my job so enjoyable. Despite 2020 being a challenge, you have all made my job a joy in my first year working at Birmingham LGBT.
Here’s what some of our volunteers said about our online volunteer Christmas social:
Nat: “It was hilarious I didn’t stop laughing for ages. Thank you loved it and loved seeing everyone again.”
Dana: “The evening was the most unpredictable and perfectly chaotic experience – simply hilarious!”
Emma: “It was lovely to be part of some Christmas themed fun and to see some new faces. It was a funny way to sum up the year by socialising remotely and making the best of it whilst having technical issues! It was a very lovely evening 😊”