Meet our volunteers
Sense volunteers come from a huge range of backgrounds and we really value the wide variety of skills and experience they bring to their volunteering roles. Here some of our current volunteers give their perspective on volunteering at Sense.
Sense shop volunteer
How did you start volunteering in a Sense shop?
I gave up work in June 2011 and joined Sense West Wickham in December that year. I wanted to volunteer locally and decided I would be best suited to a role in a shop as I like communicating with people and being in contact with customers and volunteers. I looked at couple of shops in West Wickham and came across Sense once I saw it on the high street. It looked very smart from the window displays, and one of my friends was serving that morning. They recommended that I meet met Marie the manager of the shop. We arranged that I come along for an afternoon as a trial, which was a friendly and informal start. Marie went through all of the relevant Health and Safety training with me and prepared me for the different aspects of the role. I now do half a day a week on regular basis and if needed I come in on other days too.
I really enjoy the variety in what I do! This includes putting things on shelves, serving customers at the till, and sorting through the goods which are donated. Sense shops have a consistently high quality of goods on offer to buy, and we are particular about what we display to show off the best of these. I enjoy coming here to volunteer, and that is thanks especially to the manager and assistant manager being very nice to work with. They adapt what is required to each of the volunteers’ different strengths and skills, ensuring the work is tailored to each of our capabilities.
What part of your volunteering role do you enjoy most?
The contact with people and customers is my favourite part of the role. When you give up work either through retirement or redundancy, you need sustained contact. This gives me a reason to get out once a week and I thoroughly enjoy it. Hopefully I give back to the shop as much as it gives me. We recognise the customers who come in and regular shoppers are greeted on a first name basis. It’s important for customers to have a personal service provided by someone who recognises them, especially if they are elderly customers. This makes the Sense shop a great asset in the community as we can all laugh and talk together on a friendly and informal basis.
What’s your advice for anyone who wants to volunteer?
My advice would be to go into a Sense shop straight away! You can get a feel for the shop and meet the managers and volunteers without any pressure. If you like it, you can ask for a trial to see if it is the right volunteering opportunity for you. The success of Sense shops is really down to personalities of the people who work in them, and this filters through to make you feel wanted as a volunteer or customer. This positive ethos is very important in a working or volunteer role and is reflected in how we treat both the customers and the stock. I am very lucky to be able to come in and spend my time helping here
Family Day volunteer and Sense Ambassador
Tell us about your volunteering with Sense
I've been a volunteer for Sense since 2009 at family days and events. I've also recently become a Sense Ambassador, helping to promote the work of Sense. I've led workshops about being a deafblind person who is a volunteer and am hoping to get involved with more workshops and training in the year ahead. I'll also be helping to make a video for Sense as part of my Ambassador role.
I'm really happy that more deafblind people are volunteering with Sense. I'm really interested in this and other people are too.
What do you most enjoy about volunteering?
I really enjoy giving a warm welcome to children and families at events and helping to run activities like arts and crafts, the sensory room and my favourite, trampolining! Now I’ve volunteered on lots of different events, I like seeing people I have met before, as well as helping new volunteers and families to enjoy the events. I’d really like to volunteer more often both for Sense, especially at family days, and in my local community.
Volunteer Legal Caseworker
What does your role involve?
The Legal Support Services team at Sense has been in operation for two years and introduced Volunteer Caseworkers in November 2013. The support the team offers includes legal advice and information, casework, representing clients during complex queries with the Ombudsman or a Tribunal (SEN and Welfare Benefits), and finally the option to be referred to a solicitor.
Referrals to the team are up 40 per cent from 2012 making it critically important to have sufficient capacity to respond to deafblind people and families in crisis. The role we undertake as volunteers really contributes to this.
How do you feel you have benefitted deafblind people through your role?
As well as helping to increase the volume of enquiries and casework the Legal team can respond to, the role draws on my fifteen years of experience as a personal injury solicitor in providing clear information and effective guidance with the sensitivity required when supporting people in really difficult and challenging circumstances who may be feeling very worried or alone.
The past twelve months have been a particularly difficult time for many deafblind people with cuts to social care funding, welfare reform and changes in legal aid. The ability to offer guidance and support in these circumstances makes the role really rewarding for me. Client care has always been at the heart of my professional work and I enjoy giving my time to ensure the deafblind people and families I meet receive the best possible support from Sense.
How has volunteering benefitted you?
Volunteering for Sense has been really beneficial in introducing me back into a work environment having taken a career break to look after my young children. It’s a modern, flexible workplace which allows me to volunteer both in the office and from home during the week, meaning I can keep in touch with the clients I’m helping. I’ve received excellent training and support, am kept up to date on what’s going on and feel involved in the overall work of the team. The opportunity to draw and build on my previous experience and skills while working with a new group of clients has been both enjoyable and informative as I explore my options for returning to paid work.
Holidays and Events volunteer
How did you hear about volunteering for Sense?
Back in 2008, as I was turning 18, I started doing the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. I came across Sense while looking for residential opportunities on the Award website and the Sense holidays seemed like an interesting challenge – totally different to what I’d done before.
I applied and went through the necessary checks to work with vulnerable children and adults before receiving an offer half way through the year on a holiday in Kent. We were a large holiday group which was a brilliant opportunity to meet lots of other volunteers and deafblind people. Some of us had volunteered before whereas others hadn’t. This mixture was great as we had lots of opportunities to support and learn from each other over the course of the week. That holiday was the start of a driving passion, enthusiasm and commitment to Sense for me.
Do you have a favourite memory or a favourite part of your role?
I have so many great memories with Sense! Every holiday and event is so heart warming and such an experience! I remember being on the first day of my first holiday when the group were being introduced to one another and there was one holidaymaker who was deaf and used BSL as their first language. I knew no BSL at all, but armed with a chart of finger spelling and basic signs from the Sense preparation day I’d attended before the holiday, I started to use that and give the communication a go. Gradually throughout the week, I developed my BSL and finger spelling by practicing with everyone. The holidaymakers were really patient with me and encouraged me to try each sign. I signed up straight after the holiday to attend a BSL course and couldn’t wait to come back to Sense again to do more!
What’s your advice for anyone who wants to volunteer?
My advice to anyone thinking about volunteering with Sense is to go for it! Always have an open mind and lots of enthusiasm and remember there is lots of support from the Holidays team to help you along the way. You might feel “How can I do that?” about volunteering, but with support from Sense and with the camaraderie and teamwork each holiday creates, you come to realise how much you have to offer and that you really can support the person you’ve been linked – and the group as a whole - to have an amazing holiday experience.
Community Fundraising volunteer
How did you hear about volunteering for Sense?
I joined the fundraising team in Birmingham in 2011 and worked with them closely to organise my own fashion fundraising event called ‘Ditch and Switch’. I’m a student and organising events for Sense is the perfect way to use my free time between my studies and gain experience of events management while supporting a great cause.
How did you find your experience?
The event was great fun and even though there were times when it didn’t seem like it was ever going to come together, it was a great feeling when the day ran without a hitch.
I sourced a great venue, raffle prizes and small gifts for all of our guests, which I think are the main ingredients for a great event. The good thing about an event like this is that it doesn’t need to be a big-scale event and I’ve even held ‘switches’ in my own living room before now.
How did Sense support you through your volunteering?
Organising the event with support from the Sense fundraising team was much easier than I first thought it would be. Knowing the funds raised from the event make a difference to the lives of children who live in isolation makes me feel great.