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Why we care just as much about our volunteers as we do about our service users

Posted on: Thursday, 17th November 2016 by Rebecca Shoosmith, Head of Support Services

Our volunteer training weekend is one of our favourite events of the year. I still remember the first time we ran it back in November 2010, nervous and hopeful that this would be the beginning of something amazing. And it was. Rob, our Chief Executive, and I took a moment during one of the warm up sessions to look at this full room buzzing with the excitement of all these extraordinary people, people who had devoted their time and energy to helping women and their loved ones affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. They were inspiring and brave in the truest sense.

I still feel that way every time we train a new group of volunteers. Jo’s seems to attract incredible volunteers who are not only dedicated and committed but thoroughly wonderful people! Since that first event, we’ve trained almost 100 support services volunteers and we’re set to train further volunteers this year on the 18-20 November in Manchester.

A unique aspect of our services is that all of our volunteers have either personal or professional experience of the disease so they really get what our community needs. This ranges from women directly affected by a diagnosis to colposcopy and screening nurses, all of whom are focused on becoming the best Helpline volunteers or support group leaders that they can be. Whilst volunteering with us they will help women and their loved ones with a wide range of issues including screening concerns and HPV vaccination questions through to abnormal screening results, cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery or end of life care. They deliver a fantastic blend of trustworthy information and emotional support. 

Throughout the weekend we deliver training, information and practical skills to prepare our new volunteers, but also refresher training and new modules to increase the skills our current volunteers have been using throughout the year. They arrive feeling nervous and overwhelmed and generally leave feeling equipped and confident. We have expert trainers and staff running the training modules, and each year we are extremely fortunate to be joined by Dr Jac Livsey, Consultant Clinical Oncologist who provides expert training on how to answer some of the trickier questions about cervical cancer and abnormalities, treatment and recovery.. We also have huge amounts of fun throughout and I think we all go home with a few more friends than when we arrived!

What probably doesn’t come across in our booklets and information pages is that our volunteers go through a lot to become our volunteers. They initially fill in an application form, have an in-depth conversation with a member of our Support Services team, attend a full weekend of training and then go on to have test calls and further discussion to ensure that they really do feel ready to start on our services. We like to get to know our volunteers pretty well before they ever take their first call or run their first group and I like to think it is well worth the effort on both sides. We want to make sure our volunteers have plenty of time and opportunities to voice any concerns, queries or uncertainty they may be feeling and for us to be able to support them in the most appropriate way.

Often new volunteers are most worried about not being able to answer a question and also what they would say if a woman has sadly received a terminal diagnosis of cervical cancer. We train and support them to understand that they are not expected to have all the answers. In fact, that may well be one of the most important things to know as a Support Services volunteer. Receiving abnormal screening results or a diagnosis if cancer can be a lonely, scary or confusing time and often the women using our services just need someone to listen to them especially when they’re talking about the more difficult aspects of the disease. We take the volunteers through how to deal with those difficult calls or a loss of a group member and how to stay well themselves during and afterwards. We care just as much about our volunteers as we do about our service users.

I can honestly say that in the 6 years I’ve been working with our volunteers it has been an honour and a pleasure. I am always astounded by just how many incredible people there are willing to commit to helping us and helping others.  So if you’re thinking of becoming a Helpline or support group volunteer; do get in touch as you couldn’t be in better company and if you were feeling nervous about using our services, I hope this makes you feel like you’ll be in safe hands.

Find out how you can get involved.