The support volunteers provide is invaluable during the coronavirus outbreak

1 June, 2020

Nancy, a volunteer in Hamilton, describes volunteering during the coronavirus outbreak and how she has changed the way she supports people during lockdown.

I volunteer with the Witness Service in Hamilton Sheriff Court. I had always intended to volunteer in some way or another when I retired from my midwifery career but was unsure exactly how or where. I saw an advert in the local paper for volunteers for the Witness Service and recalled going to court a few years previously with a friend of mine who had been called as a witness at court.

I remembered walking into the building and finding it quite overwhelming. This feeling continued as we entered the witness room but after a few minutes, a lovely person came over, introduced themselves and proceeded to fill us in on what would happen throughout the day. It was so helpful and really put us at ease. So, reading the advert, I thought “That’s what I’d really like to do”. I knew first-hand how useful the service was and the difference I could make to people.

A woman offering support to a victim a with court familiarisation visit.

Volunteering with Victim Support Scotland (VSS) has so many benefits. I love the fact that we’re helping people and it’s so good to know that we can make a huge difference to someone’s day and hopefully make their experience of court a little easier  – it can be, and often is, so stressful for witnesses. As well as the ‘feel good from helping’ factor, as a volunteer you meet so many different people, other volunteers and staff. They come from different backgrounds and ways of life, so your own knowledge and learning is ever-growing.

I would recommend volunteering with VSS to anyone who has an interest in people. We are very well supported by staff, there are lots of well-led and interesting training courses and I feel we are appreciated by people we help at court and staff alike. I work as part of a great team. The VSS team at Hamilton Sheriff Court, volunteers and staff, are all very friendly, helpful and supportive of each other.

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak

In these days of lockdown, our role has certainly changed and so has the situation for our witnesses. I’m doing support phone calls from home. I miss not being able to see people’s faces, as you can pick up a lot of information that way. However, I’m learning new telephone skills, picking up on nuances of speech, and understanding silences. It was a bit daunting at first providing support alone. At court, we are never on our own, there is always a staff member there for assistance if needed, so doing phone calls alone is certainly different, but I’m learning to enjoy the calls too and people are often very appreciative that someone has taken the time to make the call.

With the Victim Support Scotland offices currently closed to the public, I know many people are using different methods of contacting and communicating with victims of crime. I am sticking to phone calls but I’m sure that vulnerable service users will be glad for whatever form of communication we can provide.

The support people affected by crime receive from VSS and from other agencies is invaluable, especially in these strange days. People are in difficult situations already with whatever crime has occurred without the added uncertainties about when their trials may eventually take place. For some it is almost unbearable. They feel completely helpless and the coronavirus outbreak is making their situation worse. So, even such a simple thing as a phonecall can be so re-assuring for them, just to know that they are not forgotten and that somebody actually cares.