Michael is a volunteer befriender with Nottinghamshire Healthcare. He has been involved in a number of different roles and projects across the Trust. You can watch Michael speak more about his volunteering here.
Over the pre-pandemic years I’ve enjoyed (mostly, anyway) quite a variety of roles/tasks: gathering patient feedback; taking part in audits; interviewing staff; attending and sometimes offering my opinions at strategic level meetings; collaboratively co-producing training for patients in the interview process; attending Patients’ Forums; presenting the patients’ opinions and decisions from such forums; attending and supporting patients at special and sometimes celebratory events; being part of the Involvement Communications group; helping to develop and deliver some training for volunteers; and quite a few more besides! Many weeks I have had 3, 4 or even 5 different activities to attend and participate. All this has been tremendously beneficial to me as well.
Since the pandemic arrived in Britain, our volunteering has inevitably changed course. I still attend the Patients Forum in a medium secure hospital but I have to use MS Teams to be there. Yes I sit in front of a Trust laptop. Fortunately I am known from my previous years of attending in person. As a result, patients and staff are happy for me to attend and I am happy to contribute in discussions (appropriately, of course). It pleases me that I can still offer support. In fact all my volunteering activities have been remote – so far, and while the use of MS Teams has been a great way to keep initiatives and reviews moving along, I have felt a lot less comfortable than when I attend in person. I guess I feel inhibited, can find it harder to maintain my concentration and generally I think I’ve been rather quiet.
Plans are being made for our gradual return to face to face roles and we have been able to have our say in that as well. Frankly I can’t wait to return to face to face involvement. While the digital approach has made it easier for staff geographically, I think a lot has inevitably been lost when it comes to patient/client and service user participation. Fortunately the various Divisions have made tremendous efforts to keep patients involved. Technology has been rolled out much more quickly than had been the case. Safeguarding and security have stayed right at the fore in importance, but laptops and tablets are used far more frequently, with staff supervision and I think blanket restrictions have been seriously reviewed. Now Least Restrictive Practice is becoming the norm and many patients have actually found their relationships with staff have improved.
I’m looking forward to seeing patients and staff in their hospital/clinics/protective environments. I feel I still have plenty to offer and that it can be achieved better when I attend in person. For example, the interviews at Rampton Hospital when I have chaired Patient Interview Panels have been so rewarding for everyone. Some relative normality and the respect that the patients show to me, to the candidates and to each other is genuine and so reassuring for everyone. The normal conversations (yes, with laughter as well) that we can have during any breaks – they really do help massively in the patients’ recovery.
I’m hoping we will have a suitable mix of remote and face to face interaction. A personal “Hi, how are you?” A smile or wave. Giving someone else my full non-judgemental attention when they are feeding back their opinions, experiences or maybe their concerns. Maybe a chance to sing together when there’s some homegrown or visiting entertainment. The little things can make such a difference when someone is going through tough times with their mental health. I know, and I hope I can make a small difference.
For me the best thing about volunteering with Nottinghamshire Healthcare, is the fact that we all do our best (as teams) to make the seriously disturbed lives of others that bit better than they were. We pull together, listen to those patients, maybe innovate, and where possible, help to bring about positive changes that will have real impacts in the recovery. I like to give!
During Volunteer’s Week, we’re sharing our volunteer’s stories about their roles and what they enjoy about volunteering. If you’d like to get involved or volunteer for Nottinghamshire Healthcare, take a look at our current volunteering opportunities.