Elizabeth’s story of volunteering

6 June, 2023

My role as a volunteer

I volunteer for 2 days each week. The majority of the time is spent on “community calls”- I telephone people who have experienced crime and have been referred to Victim Support Scotland (VSS) by another organisation or who have referred themselves, using the VSS website or help line.

Before moving to live in Scotland, I had been a volunteer with Victim Support (VS) in England. I started volunteering after I retired. I chose to volunteer with VS because the experience we had as a family when one of the children was assaulted on a public bus by a stranger. At that time, there was no support for my child or for us as a family. It was only many years later that I heard about Victim Support and it seemed like a worthwhile organisation to support.

A typical volunteering shift

Each week I am sent the telephone contacts for a number of people who have experienced a crime, together with some very basic background information. Over two days I will telephone them and explain about VSS and what can be offered by way of support, information and signposting. Then it is simply a matter of listening to what they want to talk about. This can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as it takes for them to express their feelings about the crime and its impact.

Now that most of the interaction is through the telephone, the main skill is positive listening, by which I mean being guided by the individual and their comments, showing that I am actively hearing what they say by saying things like “yes, ok, I see what you mean” or by reflecting back what they have said about an issue. It’s very much a listening mode, sometimes listening to silence, rather than speaking or giving advice.

Occasionally I will provide in-court support. I will always try to provide support when someone I have been supporting in the community is due to go to court to give evidence. This will involve meeting them at court to look at, and consider the feeling of being in, a court room and explaining about the evidence giving process. On the day of the hearing, I will meet the individual at the court, possibly take them into a private, safe witness room, and for those with a special measure arranged of having a supporter, stand near them whilst they give evidence.

The positive impact of support

Memorable instances are where it has been possible to support an individual both through telephone support in the lead up to the case in which they may give evidence, and then to support them at court whilst they give evidence. It is encouraging to see someone who had previously spoken of their fear and anxiety about being a witness, then go on to be assured and confident giving their evidence.

I appreciate the training and support that VSS gives to its volunteers, together with the very helpful and available access to its paid regional staff. They, too ,are good at listening and are able to provide useful information or contacts to take back to the supported individual where this may help.

Volunteering with Victim Support Scotland is generally a win-win experience, even allowing for the interminable delays in getting a case to court. People who are supported seem to feel positive about the process and I certainly feel that I am doing something useful in volunteering.

Here is some recent feedback that was received from an individual who I supported in the community, both over the phone and in office appointments, after they were a victim of assault:

‘It just put my mind at ease as from the first phonecall I had good rapport with Elizabeth, she let you explain everything. It went along at just the right speed. She covered anything under the sun, not just about the incident but also family, other things going on in life and so on.

‘I think it’s made me more confident now than before all this happened. You look at things in a different light and that’s really helped me. Sometimes you think people must get fed up of listening to the same things and Elizabeth was so patient, handling it really well. I would recommend anyone who was a person affected by crime to go and talk, I think they’d find it really good.’

A message to anyone thinking of volunteering with Victim Support Scotland

It may well be daunting when thinking about volunteering to meet, talk to and sit with someone who has experienced crime. The worry may be around what the person will talk about, will it be difficult to hear? Will they ask questions about the justice system that I don’t know anything about? What if they get upset, what should I do?

I would say that all such worries and more have already been anticipated by Victim Support Scotland and are very thoroughly dealt with in the VSS training and in the on-going support that volunteers receive. I have also found that the response from people who have been supported does suggest that they found the support helpful and positive. We all like to be appreciated!

If you would like to find out more about volunteering for Victim Support Scotland, check out our website on

Free and confidential support for anyone affected by crime can be accessed by calling the VSS Helpline on 0800 160 1985 or through our website .