“The chance to really support children” – life as a volunteer

Place2Be is a leading national children's mental health charity.

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About 15 million people in the UK volunteer frequently, giving around 2 billion hours of their time every year. A growing trend is in skills-based volunteering; giving your skills as well as your time has been shown to increase learning and development and provides vital support to charities. The counselling profession is no exception. Place2Be has over a thousand volunteers, that support mental health work in schools. We caught up with two of their volunteers, Ruth Facey, in her 30’s and teaches at a secondary school, and Chris Plimmer, a retired district nurse in her 60’s.

Why did you first start volunteering with Place2Be?
Ruth: I was thinking about leaving teaching as I felt I didn’t have enough time to focus on the pastoral side of things. As a teacher there is a lot of pressure to be very target driven and it’s hard to focus on young people’s emotional needs. I decided to do a Masters in child and adolescent psychodynamic counselling and I did my placement at Place2Be.

Chris: Early on in my career as a district nurse I did a lot of work with adults who were dying and saw how that affected the children in the family. One child was dealing with the death of his father but had no one he could turn to for help. Many years later, when I heard about Place2be and their work with children I knew how helpful it could be. I did my placement at Place2Be as part of my counselling diploma and saw the real difference it made to children’s lives.

What has made you continue to volunteer all these years?
Ruth: I can’t believe it has been nearly 6 years – it has flown by! At first it was all a bit daunting as I hadn’t worked with primary school children before – all my experience was as a secondary school teacher. However the support from Place2Be and the school project managers was very reassuring. Seeing the children develop has been so rewarding.

Chris: It is such a reward to see the children become more confident. I have also developed my own skills as a result of working with children and I was able to use this during my time as a district nurse. Although I retired a few years ago, I have continued volunteering with Place2Be because it gives me the chance to really support children.

What type of issues have you supported children and young people with and is there any child that stands out in your mind?
Chris: Over my ten years with Place2Be I have seen a lot of different issues but I would say that divorce, bereavement, grief and difficult situations in the home are quite common. One little boy was struggling to cope with his mother’s death. He blamed himself and because he found it very difficult to communicate he couldn’t talk about it at all. In our sessions he did a lot of painting and played with figures to show me what was going on for him. By the end of the year he was a different boy. It’s that kind of transformation that really stays with me.

Ruth: I was working with one little girl who was very anxious about the move from primary to secondary school. We did a lot of storytelling and scenarios of what might happen. After she’d left school I saw her when I was out shopping and she came running up to me and said ‘Miss Place2Be, I love secondary school – thank you!’ That has stayed with me ever since.

What’s the most rewarding thing about volunteering your skills?
Ruth: As a teacher I don’t have time to sit down and talk to my students about their emotions and problems which is frustrating but at Place2Be I have that time. I have learnt a lot and used that in my job as a teacher. The other day I had to see a pupil who’d been disruptive and instead of going into the classroom and asking lots of questions, I went in and sat in silence. I waited for them to tell me what was happening when they were ready.

Chris: It is seeing the difference that it makes when you have the opportunity to spend some time with children and give them the space they need. I wasn’t able to have that kind of time when I was a district nurse so it means a lot to me.

What would your advice be for someone who is considering becoming a child counsellor?
Chris: Although it may seem daunting at first to work with young children and you might think ‘there’s no way I could do that’, it’s amazingly rewarding. The support I get from Place2Be is such a help, and knowing that you are not on your own makes all the difference.

Ruth: I think you have to be adaptable and be prepared for surprises. But above all else just enjoy it. Place2Be offers a variety of training opportunities for both trainee and qualified counsellors, as well as counselling placements in primary and secondary schools across the UK.

For more information about Place2Be please visit: www.place2be.org.uk/volunteer

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