Volunteer Klarissa on art as therapy

Volunteers’ Week: Klarissa volunteers at one of our hostels, running an art group for residents

Volunteer Klarissa on art as therapy

Klarissa volunteers with Thames Reach, running an art group at one of our hostels in central London. She has been doing this since the start of the year, and reflects on what it means for residents to get involved with a creative practice, as well as what she has learned from the experience.

“I come in every Wednesday and run an art workshop in the afternoon. It’s important that I keep the structure as open as possible, so people don’t feel put off by a lack of experience or confidence in making art. The objective certainly isn’t to produce a perfect painting or drawing, it’s to have some time and space to be freely creative, in a way that feels comfortable.

“When I started volunteering, I came into it quite naïve; I was full of enthusiasm and was very amped up at first but then I realised that I’m coming into an environment where someone might be finding themselves again, they might be at the beginning of their journey. I now know that I need to take a back seat and hold the space. Being gentle and taking things slowly can be far more inviting than coming to a group where the facilitator is super happy and chirpy; it’s been a process trying to find that balance, but a very rewarding one.

“The residents are great, it’s been a wonderful experience meeting new people with new creative ideas to work on together. We’ve been able to lean into the challenges that come with being creative, the ongoing hope is to work through cycles of low self-esteem to find that all creativity is valuable and valid. It’s so easy to feel embarrassed by art-making if you’re not confident with what you’re doing, but leaning into that is a skill that we’re all trying to learn. Doing something that can free us from our daily routine and anxieties can be therapeutic in itself. Then there’s the production element of it: once an artwork has been made, it’s a real statement of showing people who you are and how you appear in the world! There is a real issue with people feeling invisible once they’ve experienced homelessness, but making art can be one way to show people how you feel, and how you express yourself. I have gotten to know people at the project not necessarily by them telling me everything, but through the art they are making.

“Having the space for making art, having a chat and being creative every Wednesday means that residents know it’s here, as something completely separate from their usual support networks and friendship groups. People come to the art group with all kinds of issues going on in their lives, but I hope to create a space where they can do something outside of that for a couple of hours. I don’t do this in the expectation that it will change anyone’s life; although I’m interested in therapeutic activites, I’m not a trained therapist, so I have to manage expectations. If it can just change someone’s Wednesday, then I’m happy.”

Celebrating our community this Volunteers’ Week: 1-7 June 2022

Kelly, volunteer programmes manager, discusses her role and celebrates the work of our wonderful volunteers

Celebrating our community this Volunteers’ Week: 1-7 June 2022

1-7 June is Volunteers’ Week, a time to celebrate the incredible work of volunteers who bring so much to organisations such as Thames Reach. With almost 100 active volunteers in teams across London, they are highly valued in helping our work towards ending street homelessness, and are very much part of the Thames Reach community. Kelly McLoughlin, volunteer programmes manager, speaks about her role coordinating around 100 volunteers, and shares how inspiring it is to work alongside such dedicated individuals and groups.

Describe your role as volunteer programmes manager. What is it about the role that you enjoy the most?

I’m responsible for organising all volunteer activity at Thames Reach, whether that is corporate efforts or individuals, and across all our different projects and services. Part of the role is also building and maintaining relationships with organisations who offer volunteering through their staff or students. Volunteers who are currently studying at university are really valuable to us and bring a lot of energy and commitment, so keeping those relationships are important. Anything that comes to Thames Reach in relation to volunteering would come through me.

My favourite part of the role is probably being able to share in the achievements of our volunteers; having the chance to celebrate them is important, and we have a few initiatives that mark and reward their good work. Volunteers are always humble, and often surprised when they are celebrated or rewarded; sometimes they don’t realise the profound impact they have on the people we work with.

Why do you believe Volunteers’ Week to be so important?

It’s a great opportunity to have time to dedicate to reflecting on the work that volunteers do every day. As an organisation and in individual teams, it gives us the chance to share stories and successes that have come from volunteering. This year, we have created and scheduled additional opportunities for volunteers, to make sure they are able to get more out of their experience. These training sessions will be based around new themes that we are coming across in our work, such as social isolation post-Covid. We’re also planning a summer event for volunteers to come together and celebrate their hard work.

How has the landscape of volunteering changed in recent times?

We have a large and committed pool of volunteers, but since the pandemic we have had to re-assess whether certain roles can be done remotely, as quite a few people left London during this time, and while some had to isolate. We lost a volume of volunteers altogether after Brexit, as some left the country for good. However the pandemic brought about a lot of people wanting to give back to their community, and we had a great response from people continuing volunteering with us once they had gone back to work, so again we needed to be creative with the sorts of roles people could do, such as outside normal working hours or in corporate groups.

What are the different volunteering roles that people can get involved with?

They can be split into three groups depending on the interests and availability of the individual volunteer: front-line, which would be accompanying staff on outreach visits during the day or at night, or front of house and reception roles; employment, which might be skill-sharing and mentoring, or helping out with our Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) service in our Employment and Skills team; and wellbeing, which usually involves activities such as art workshops and helping combat social isolation. There are so many ways to volunteer with us, and our shared commitment means that there are so many ways that we can work together to help people affected by street homelessness.

If you are interested in volunteering at Thames Reach and working with us towards our vision of ending street homelessness, please email volunteermanagers@thamesreach.org.uk

The journey from volunteering to employment at Thames Reach

Alex, assistant support worker in one of our homelessness recovery teams, discusses her career progression from volunteering to employment

The journey from volunteering to employment at Thames Reach

Alex is an assistant support worker with the PLACE (Pan-London Accommodation and Community Engagement) team, a service initially set up to help people find sustainable accommodation after receiving support through the government’s Everyone In initiative back in 2020. Prior to this, she volunteered with STAR (Sustaining Tenancies, Accommodation and Resettlement), a homelessness prevention partnership service within Thames Reach. She discusses the journey from volunteering to employment, and how the experience has helped shape her career.

What was your volunteering experience like, and what tasks did you do?

I started out volunteering with the STAR team from January 2021 until November that year. It’s important to do volunteering for a sustained amount of time so that people you are helping have that level of consistency. I was their Romanian-speaking volunteer, and went out on outreach shifts to locations that were known rough sleeping spots. I helped out with translation where we were looking for people with Romanian as their first language; this then evolved into shadowing support workers in the team. I helped with evaluating and following up on client progress, then helped putting together a database of services around London, so we could easily signpost for things such as immigration, legal advice, food banks and mental health.

What is your current role and how is the workload different from volunteering?

I am now assistant support worker with the PLACE team, and have been since November, so I applied for the role while still volunteering. The project was set up to find permanent accommodation from the temporary provisions offered during the Everyone In initiative. We work with housing associations to match tenants with flats, making sure people have the support and signposting they need, whether this is mental health or substance support, and we refer to Thames Reach’s Employment and Skills team regularly too. I have my own caseload and work with people from the start of their recovery journey, and also work as part of the Keeping in Touch service, making sure people are secure in their tenancy once they’ve been placed in accommodation.

What brought you to Thames Reach?

I had been interested in homelessness for a while, and wanted to know exactly how I could help. I wanted to be able to offer direct support for people experiencing homelessness, and really contribute to the good work being done. I also wanted to see the reality of homelessness, as in London you walk past a lot of people who are street homeless but never really get the full story.

What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering?

I gained a lot more than I was expecting from the experience, so I would say keep an open mind and really get involved. It really opened up different ideas and opportunities for me. The team were happy to share their knowledge and expertise with me, so don’t feel worried that you don’t know enough, because it’s definitely a learning experience. I was able to have an overview of all the things I could potentially do in the team, so felt that I was making a difference and getting a lot back.

If you are interested in volunteering with Thames Reach, check out our Volunteers page here or email volunteermanagers@thamesreach.org.uk

Walking from London to Paris to help end street homelessness

Luke took on a solo fundraising mission of a staggering 302km walk from London to Paris in aid of Thames Reach

Walking from London to Paris to help end street homelessness

Last month, Luke undertook the huge challenge of a solo sponsored walk from London to Paris. An entirely self-guided, self-initiated effort, he walked over 300km to raise money for our work helping to end street homelessness. We caught up with him after a well-earned rest to hear how it went!

London to Paris is an incredible feat to achieve on foot. Can you talk us through how it went day by day?

I walked out my front door at 3:30am, and spent the next five days walking all the way to the French capital, a total of 302km. The longest day was 95km from my home in south west London to Newhaven on the south coast. That day was a real challenge, taking a total of 22 hours, and had an elevation similar to climbing Snowdon.

A few hours into day one, it really hit home that my boots were not “worn in”, and my feet were in a lot of pain. Every step was hurting, which was making the challenge much harder.

Day two was a ferry ride from Newhaven to Dieppe. The few hours on the ferry allowed me to recover after the mammoth first day. I then made an impromptu visit in passing to a sports shop in Dieppe, where I bought some new trainers to use instead of the boots that were causing a lot of pain. As a stroke of fortune, these fit perfectly and I wore them for the rest of the trip. Having seen a snippet of Dieppe, I’ve decided I definitely want to visit properly someday.

The next three days then blurred into one 3-day long period of walking through lots of farmland in glorious spring sunshine, listening to podcasts and eating baguettes and an inhuman amount of trail mix.

I finally arrived in Paris to be greeted at the finish line by my two sisters, shortly followed by some much needed hot food and a glass of wine.

What support did you get from Thames Reach in the lead up to the event?

Thames Reach were very supportive, providing some really positive encouragement prior to the event. They kindly provided a couple of event t-shirts that I made great use of.

What inspired you take on a fundraising challenge for Thames Reach specifically (and such an extreme one at that!)?

The sheer size and visibility of the problem of homelessness in London is staggering. The statistics of the number of people who don’t have a home is truly shocking, and shouldn’t exist in this country.

After a few years of occasionally volunteering for Thames Reach in outreach as part of the Rapid Response Team, I wanted to make a contribution in a different way.

With charities constantly facing tough trade-offs in use of resources, supporting with a financial contribution can make a real difference to the people who rely on the services Thames Reach provides.

What was the highlight of the event for you?

Although I love walking and being outdoors, arriving in Paris was far and away the highlight. My feelings were a combination of a large sense of achievement… as well as a huge dose of relief that I could finally stop walking and rest!

If you are inspired by Luke’s incredible fundraising activity, head to our Support Us page and be part of the journey towards ending street homelessness.

His JustGiving page is still live if you would like to show your support. Click here to follow his journey.

 

Interview: Volunteering with Thames Reach on placement year

We interview Beatrice, who has just finished volunteering with Croydon Reach as part of her placement year

Interview: Volunteering with Thames Reach on placement year

We spoke to Beatrice, who has been volunteering with Croydon Reach as part of her degree in social work. As her placement comes to an end, we asked her about her experience and what she has learned on her journey towards becoming a trained social worker.

Can you tell us about the work you have done on your placement?

I have been in the outreach team as an outreach support worker at Croydon Reach. It’s been a really valuable learning experience for me, as at the beginning I was learning how the team support clients, and by the beginning of this year I had my own case load. I have been supporting people with housing, helping access benefits and signposting to services. Most of the people I’ve worked with have successfully moved on, so I’m proud of the work I’ve done.

Can you tell us a bit about your working background prior to coming to Thames Reach?

I am in my second year of my social work degree and didn’t have a lot of experience before coming here. I did do some volunteering in Portugal at an organisation working with refugees, people experiencing homelessness and people in supported housing. I was teaching computer skills, but there was a much smaller client group there.

What did you learn about homelessness during your time with us?

There is this public perception about homelessness that is so limiting, but it’s not the case with people you meet as a support worker. The negative stereotypes are so unhelpful and don’t account for the journeys that people are on.

When I got the placement, I didn’t think so much about homelessness in relation studying social work, but it’s made me realise that there are all sorts of people and situations involved in homelessness, and lots of different needs. In my social work experience before Thames Reach, I had worked with one group of people with one particular set of needs, but with homelessness there are so many factors to consider.

What would you say to someone thinking of volunteering with Thames Reach?

With all these different factors in people’s lives, it means there is a wide spectrum of opportunities, especially if you want to learn about particular things or use particular skills. The team have been so great to work with, I felt really supported and included. They were really open to being asked questions too, which is great when you’re first starting out.

How do you think your placement experience will help you be a better social worker?

I’ve learned so much about empowering the people we work with, and the ethics around that. It’s so important to understand what the individual wants, not just projecting what I think is best, as their support worker. I hope to be able to support people from where they are, rather than where I, or anyone else, think they should be. Understanding people and communicating with them has been such a huge learning opportunity for me; people engaging with substance teams, for example, has allowed me to see the process for myself. The journey someone is on isn’t always a straight line, and seeing people start again, if that’s what they need to do, is all part of that.

If you, or your team, are interested in volunteering with Thames Reach, please have a look at our Volunteer page and contact VolunteerManagers@thamesreach.org.uk for more information.

Tenancy Sustainment Team South are looking for volunteers

The new Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) South are looking for volunteers to help people in their recovery journey from street homelessness.

Tenancy Sustainment Team South are looking for volunteers

Thames Reach’s Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) South are looking for volunteers to help people recover from street homelessness and maintain independent accommodation across South London.

Volunteers are offered training, ongoing support and expenses. Volunteering is a great way to gain experience and learn new skills, help towards getting a paid role in the sector, or to make meaningful use of your spare time. We welcome and encourage volunteers with lived experience of homelessness, recovery, and mental health.

We offer the opportunity to work from different locations in West, South or East London, for half a day or a full day at a range of different times, including opportunities to help us on late afternoons and evenings (Monday to Friday).

Please have a look at the roles listed below. If you’re interested in applying for a role, please fill out the application form here. Feel free to get in touch with any questions at: volunteermanagers@thamesreach.org.uk.

Tenancy Intervention and Welfare (TIW) volunteer: The TIW volunteer will support staff when clients are at risk of losing their homes or when clients need support to stay safe within their community. Some travel across London will be needed to visit clients, but full travel expenses are paid. Experience of working with vulnerable people is desirable and we welcome applications from Social Work/Social Care students (plese see below for details).

Welcome volunteer: We are seeking volunteers to support clients who are new to the TST. You will help people build confidence and make connections in their local community. This role will be a mixture of telephone support and travel around London. Good IT skills and a polite telephone manner will be important for this role.

Social Isolation volunteer: Volunteers are needed for informal support for clients who are experiencing loneliness or isolation. Support will involve helping people to be well connected to their community.

Keeping In Touch (KIT) volunteer: KIT  is a telephone support service, giving clients the opportunity to informally “check in” if they need to speak to someone in the TST. Volunteers will help direct the calls and offer a low level of support over the phone. Good IT skills and a polite and friendly telephone manner are needed for this role.

Placements: We welcome student placements in the team. If you are over 18 years old, you can take part in a placement in our TST for a minimum of twelve weeks as part of your course, in teams across London. In recent years, students on social work, mental health and social science courses have gained a great deal of experience from these placements. Please send us an email at volunteermanagers@thamesreach.org.uk to enquire.

 

Chris’ story

After a period of street homelessness, Chris is rebuilding his life in different ways, including using his new-found confidence to volunteer

Chris’ story

Chris has been volunteering with Deptford Reach since it re-opened after lockdown, with a new purpose of supporting more people in an outreach capacity. Chris started volunteering after being recommended to Thames Reach’s TRaVEL (Thames Reach Volunteering and Employment for Life) programme, which helps people improve their confidence and interpersonal skills before entering volunteering or the workplace. He has been volunteering for just over two months, and has a front-of-house role on reception, meeting and greeting visitors to the building and helping with tasks such as ensuring people get to their doctor’s appointment. He finds the experience rewarding and a good way of being able to use the skills he had worked on during the TRaVEL programme.

“I found out about TRaVEL through my support worker, and the project first introduced me to Thames Reach’s work. I’ve been able to improve my communication skills, my confidence and my self-esteem, which I’ll need for heading into work.Chris is currently happy volunteering and working on his self-esteem and rebuilding his life after a period of street homelessness, and keen to give back to the sector that has helped him. “I like being able to give back to the service. Because of my past, when people come into the building, I can see potential in them. Maybe if they see me they might be inspired to improve their situation. I feel like I am in a position to inspire them, even in a subtle way.” When Chris is ready to get back into work, he is keen to work in the fields of homelessness, mental health or recovery, using his lived experience to help others.  He will be able to access the Thames Reach Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) service for support with job applications.

The recovery journey Chris is going through began from being street homeless for a year, before residing in a hostel for another year after his time sleeping rough, then rehab for seven months. He is now determined to focus on his recovery and improving his wellbeing, he says, to never go back to the way he was. He wants to use his lived experience to eventually find a job where he can help and influence people and be paid for it. Reflecting on how far he has come, Chris says “helping other people is part of my recovery”.

Chris is now enjoying taking up new hobbies which help him feel happy in himself. He is undergoing training in beekeeping locally in London, and enjoys being outdoors as much as possible. He also speaks enthusiastically about a project he is part of with St Mungo’s called Paws for Pause, which provides training for working with dogs and understanding their behaviours, aimed at people who have had mental health support needs. “It’s good for my wellbeing, I really enjoy it, plus it’s the opportunity to pick up some new skills. My life has changed big time and I’m very grateful for that.”

For volunteering opportunities, please email volunteers@thamesreach.org.uk. 

Volunteers Week: Thank you!

To mark Volunteers Week, we chat with three inspiring volunteers: Desiree, Zuhoor and Elin, who give up their time to help our mission of ending street homelessness in London

Volunteers Week: Thank you!

To mark Volunteers Week, we caught up with some of our incredible volunteers, who work across our projects in a range of roles, and provide an invaluable service to staff and those using our services. Their commitment to our vision of ending street homelessness helps us make a real difference to people’s lives on a daily basis.

Desiree volunteers at The Greenhouse in Hackney

“My name is Desiree and I’ve been volunteering at the Greenhouse since April this year.

“I always had a passion to do more for vulnerable people, but I didn’t really know where to turn to. My boyfriend works for Thames Reach, and he spoke so highly of the work they do to support for vulnerable people. I checked the Thames Reach website and liked what I saw and read, and decided I would like to be a part of that.

“I love Thames Reach’s strong ethos and commitment. I live my life with the same kind of values: never give up on people; always be positive, respectful and compassionate about others. After my first day at the Greenhouse I was absolutely sure to have found people who really believe and work with those values.

“I’m really touched by the hard work we do at Thames Reach. I have not spent a long time volunteering yet, but I can say the benefits of volunteering are twofold: it gives help and support to people in need, and is also really rewarding in return.

“I’m learning new skills, I’m meeting a lot of nice people, I’m being part of a community and I’m challenging myself to try something different, achieve new goals and discover hidden talents. Last but not least, I’m coming back home knowing I’ve done a little something to help people change their life, and this feeling has no equal.”

Zuhoor volunteers in the Employment and Skills team

“My name is Zuhoor, I volunteer in two teams at Thames Reach: the IAG (Information, Advice and Guidance within Employment and Skills) and the volunteers team. I have been volunteering since June 2020.

“I started volunteering after meeting staff at Thames Reach who said I would be a good volunteer, and offered me experience. I love the environment here, staff have helped me a lot when I needed help and now I want to give back.

“I believe it builds and rebuilds confidence, helps with professional relationships and gives people a chance to give back to those in need, which is important when you yourself have been there.

“I have learnt so much, and can see that I can give back and that there is a lot of joy in volunteering, yes I am not paid for it but I get more joy out of this!  You can see the impact you’re making and that gives me great satisfaction!”

Elin volunteers at Southwark Works

“My name is Elin and I’ve been volunteering at the Employment Academy for Southwark Works for about nine months.

“I started volunteering after I received a notification from Do It, an online volunteering platform that helps you find the sort of volunteering you are interested in, letting me know that Thames Reach were looking for new volunteers.

“I wanted to volunteer with Thames Reach primarily because it’s a homeless charity, and I was feeling frustrated by the way I was seeing homeless people being de-humanised on the street in London. I hadn’t actually heard of Thames Reach before I started volunteering but quickly learned about the incredible work they have been doing for a long time.

“When you volunteer, you witness a side of life that might be very different to the one you live, which is important, and work along side some of the most inspiring, dedicated and compassionate people you will ever meet.

“Something I’ve learnt from volunteering is that the system is not working for everyone; poverty and homelessness are everywhere, the number of people that need help are huge, the class divides are just getting bigger and too many people are happy to turn a blind eye.”

From the entire Thames Reach community, we would like to thank all our incredible volunteers for their work, as well as their enthusiasm and dedication for ending street homelessness. Our work would not be possible without your input. You are all fantastic!

If you or your team are looking to take part in volunteering, and are passionate about ending street homelessness, please get in touch with volunteer programmes manager Kelly McLoughlin: volunteers@thamesreach.org.uk

Inaugural Volunteer Hero Awards celebrate essential support to services over lockdown

Our star volunteers have been presented with their Volunteer Hero Awards to say thank you for months of dedication to helping end street homelessness

Inaugural Volunteer Hero Awards celebrate essential support to services over lockdown

This year has seen not only an unprecedented increase in demand for many of Thames Reach’s services, but also the need to adapt as quickly and effectively as possible. Volunteers across different projects have helped enormously with these efforts, and to say thank you earlier in the year we asked staff and service users to nominate their star volunteers for our inaugural Volunteer Hero Awards, marking those who have gone above and beyond to help our projects and services across London. Although social distancing guidelines meant we were not able to host a full ceremony with all winners and staff together, over the past few weeks, winners have been presented with their Volunteer Hero Awards by chief executive Bill Tidnam.

From supporting outreach services to gardening projects at a residential project, each winner was nominated by either a staff member or service user for their outstanding contribution to Thames Reach’s vision of ending street homelessness. There were twelve winners overall, this is what some of them had to say after finding out they had won:

“It is my privilege to be able to volunteer for such a dynamic charity. I am always excited to get out there working alongside fantastic staff who have such dedication and passion for the work that they do. Everyone at Thames Reach have shown me nothing but kindness and patience and that is replicated with the poor souls who they meet living on the streets. I am struggling to get my head around the fact that i was even nominated as i think that i am simply doing what most other people would do if they were given the opportunity. Each time that we get someone off of the streets feels like a great moral victory to me as it does to all of the wonderful people who i work with. I would recommend that everyone should try volunteering at least once in their lives.”
– Paul, Rapid Response Team

“For me, volunteering is a snack for the soul. It’s a way to give back to my community and contribute in my own way. The pandemic was more of an incentive for me to get out there and help out. To quote Billy Ocean, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’.”
– Manos, Rapid Response Team

“Back in March I was lucky enough to do the TRaVEL (Thames Reach Volunteering and Employment for Life) course as a learner, I thought that with PTSD and anxiety I was no longer able to help anyone let alone myself. The course rekindled my desire to encourage others to reach full potential and I was accepted to volunteer for the next TRaVEL course. The course has rewarded me immensely, not only am I gaining invaluable skills from working with Lisa and the learners but also find that this experience has changed me for the better. I want to push myself towards a career that involves helping others. This experience has opened my heart. It was an honour to be awarded one of the Volunteer Hero awards and the recognition really humbled me.

“I have learned that job satisfaction is more than money. To be given this opportunity to help in a time of crisis has made me realise there is no lockdown on hope.”
– Joe, TRaVEL

A selection of nomination comments from staff and service users:

“Faye has been with us since 2019 and has been a fantastic volunteer throughout. She is consistent, committed and is always willing to be flexible even when we have had to make last minute changes. Faye was fantastic during the pandemic and recently supported Jamie [Lead Manager, Rapid Response Team] in explaining the role of volunteers within our team at a volunteer Streetlink event. She was particularly good at explaining the realities of outreach on the ground and this is a testament to her sound communication skills and empathy. She is a perfect volunteer!”
– Nomination for Faye, Rapid Response Team

“During the pandemic, often we were short staffed and Vicar Rob stepped up many times so I could complete early shifts and day shifts. It was an eerie and scary time, yet he remained calm and professional and never once let me down in sometimes manic situations. All the services you take for granted i.e coffee shops, cafes and loos (!) were all shut down and his church St Barnabus became my beacon of light.”
– Nomination for Vicar Rob, Newham SORT

“During lockdown Clare continued to make weekly contact with her clients and support them via the phone; she was keen to remain in contact with them and support the SI [Social Inclusion] service during these very difficult times. She is consistent, extremely enthusiastic, reliable, approachable, friendly, understanding, compassionate and selfless and has created invaluable bonds with her clients. I have received great feedback about Clare from her clients; they look forward to her visiting and calling them, she helps them feel motivated and focused and often gives purpose to their week. She always has a non-judgmental attitude and accepts them for who they are.

“One of her clients has progressed hugely, which is down to the support she has received from Clare; they now have a small support network they didn’t have before and get out for weekly walks with a group which she would never have considered before.”
– Nomination for Clare, Social Inclusion Project in the Tenancy Sustainment Team 

Elishia’s story

After volunteering at the Employment Academy, Elishia is now enjoying her permanent role with Thames Reach

Elishia’s story

Elishia had spent most of the past four years indoors. She had not been able to find much work and, suffering with chronic pain and mobility issues, she became very isolated, stuck in her flat without much fulfilling activity in her life.

Thames Reach was mentioned to her one day by a friend who had just completed the Work Ready Programme, a week-long activity course aimed at helping people develop the skills to better find employment. Elishia lived close to the Employment Academy, Thames Reach’s community resource centre in Camberwell, and decided to investigate.

Liking what she saw, Elishia applied to become a volunteer receptionist, and was soon working part-time alongside reception manager Michelle, whose support proved invaluable in helping Elishia settle into her role.

Volunteering her time in an environment she found warm and welcoming, Elishia’s mental health began to improve, and she soon realised how much she enjoyed working with visitors to the Employment Academy.

“I felt very comfortable on reception,” she said. “I felt like I was meant to work here.’”

After a few months, she became a permanent member of staff. Her role involved welcoming visitors and clients, many of whom attend in order to meet with the Thames Reach employment and skills team, and also taking room hire bookings and preparing for the wide range of events that take place in the building.

“We have so much going on here,” she said. “We have meeting rooms and office space that gets booked up, but the building is also used for children’s birthdays, church services, theatre groups and community meetings. We even have a wedding licence, and we have lots of weddings here along with parties in the courtyard in the summer.

“It’s my job to get the place ready for anyone who’s made a booking. I work hard to get everything just right and, every event I’ve covered, I’ve always felt appreciated by clients and visitors and that’s what makes me want to stay here in this job.”

Elishia feels that volunteering has opened the door to a more fulfilling life for her. 

“I really want to carry on here. I was really struggling before but now I get a lot of joy from what I’m doing. To other people who are thinking of volunteering but are unsure, I’d tell them to not be scared, you won’t know what you enjoy, and what feels worthwhile to you, until you go out and try. You can get so much out of it, it feels great to contribute, and it can help you with finding a permanent job in the future.”