Using professional skills in a volunteering capacity

Gill has been volunteering for over a year with the Victim Service in Glasgow. She uses the skills obtained in her professional life to support people affected by crime. 

5 June, 2019

Why I got involved
To begin my story, I need to explain my work background. My career over 40 years was within the banking sector. Two years ago, the entire office of 42 employees was made redundant. That was the catalyst that provided me with the opportunity to change my working life. Retirement was an option, however, I felt I wanted to do something rewarding, possibly in the charity sector. For me personally, banking was a very profit-making institution and the thought of doing something where I could help others appeared to be much more worthwhile and would make a real difference. It was actually at the job centre where it was suggested that voluntary work might be an option for me.  From a list of charities, I selected Victim Support Scotland who I had heard of and that became the start of my volunteering experience.

My initial expectations
When I first became involved with Victim Support Scotland my initial interview was a great experience. I had read some comments on the internet expressed by volunteers and had been impressed by how rewarding the volunteer work had been for them. The main tasks and work were clearly communicated at my interview. I was greatly impressed by the importance of listening and helping victims of crime.  My manager had a very caring attitude and I was made to feel at ease.  Unfortunately, my start date was delayed as my father passed away.  At this point I was really grateful for the understanding and sympathy that was shown to me by my manager and her assistant.  A true reflection of internal staff empathy as well as empathy towards victims of crime.

The reality of volunteering
From the beginning I was treated with kindness and respect, shadowing other volunteers in their roles. I received training which was extremely professional, well laid out, easy to read, and perfectly presented. After a few months shadowing and learning about the job I started to make contact by telephone with clients. For me this was the start of listening and helping people who have been through traumatic experiences. It was surprising to discover that traumas and difficulties as a result of crime can happen to anyone and there are no social boundaries. Every person affected by crime has a different set of circumstances and for me that is what makes the job such a socially valuable necessity.  I was delighted to be part of a team, volunteers and permanent staff alike, who all had the same deep desire to help others through traumatic and tough times.

What I’ve enjoyed
My role in banking for a number of years was essentially ‘relationship banking’ in the form of private banking. This was always something I really enjoyed. Working as a volunteer for Victim Support Scotland has also provided me with an opportunity to form relationships with clients going through difficult times. I especially enjoy seeing a client steadily feeling better in themselves and becoming more confident after traumatic experiences. They may never be perfectly happy emotionally and may always be negatively affected by the crime, but the fact that we in Victim Support Scotland can provide emotional support throughout the healing process gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I’m often told by clients just how much they appreciate the help we provide.

A typical day 
A typical day as a volunteer includes making phone calls to clients to discuss how they are coping, getting updates on court cases, and listening and helping where I can. As an accredited volunteer, I meet with clients in the office and complete paperwork for every client I speak to, noting their progress and covering areas that need to be discussed with clients e.g. how are they feeling, have they been to a GP, do they need someone to talk to, etc.

A recent example of a good outcome was a business owner who was extremely stressed after he was defrauded for £20,000. I interviewed him and hoped with my banking background that I could help him. He was very distressed and clearly had gone down every available avenue to get his money back. He mentioned during our interview that the bank employee had said he would stop the particular payment. At that point I advised the client that a lot of phone calls are recorded and it could be worthwhile requesting the recording. He took my advice and was reimbursed with the full £20,000. A total success story!

The most challenging thing about volunteering
There are occasions within the volunteer role where I feel disappointed that I can’t help the client more. It can be frustrating to hear about lonely, ill people being victims of crime. Individuals often have no-one to speak to and are left in shock after attacks, especially elderly people. It can sometimes make you question society and some of the mindless cruel actions of people in the community.

Why people should volunteer with Victim Support Scotland
I would definitely encourage anyone to become involved as a volunteer with Victim Support Scotland. It’s an extremely rewarding job. The organisation is very well run and the training is excellent. You will feel a great sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that you are helping people through an extremely traumatic experience by giving them emotional support and really helping them through difficult times. Working for Victim Support Scotland also enriches your own personal experience of life and makes you feel like you are part of a family.

I would also say that as a volunteer, you will receive a high level of respect within the team.  You will also be valued for your contribution which can be a rare quality for some employees in this day and age.