‘It’s about developing the individual’
A simple mantra, but one that means a lot to Jason Wallace (above right), Scottish Drugs Forum’s new Senior Development Officer for Volunteering and Engagement, and one that he expanded on when talking to media volunteer, John Thomson (above left) – himself a new volunteer.
But then Jason knows what he’s talking about as he, himself, started off as a volunteer when he was looking for volunteering opportunities ‘to fill his time’. Like many of those who become volunteers with SDF, Jason saw volunteering as an opportunity to achieve a level of structure and stability in his life; little did he know that before long he’d end up in a world of mystery shopping and peer research.
The skills and confidence he developed as a volunteer equipped Jason to progress further within SDF. After volunteering, he was successful in completing SDF’s award-winning Addiction Worker Training Project – a year-long vocational training course that supports people with a history of problematic substance use to begin a career in the social care field – before taking the post of National Naloxone Training Support Officer with Scotland’s pioneering National Naloxone Programme.
So he is well suited to his new role.
Like anyone in a new role, Jason has his own ideas of what works when supporting potentially vulnerable people to take their first steps towards volunteering. His own experience showed him the importance of a proper volunteering process and a support plan that could eventually lead to employment or further education and it’s these properties he’s aiming to continue to develop at SDF.
But it all starts by getting to know the volunteer and his or her background. It’s about beginning with the softer things to ‘help build confidence and self-esteem and to get the volunteer to a place where they feel comfortable and can develop further.’ By doing simple tasks such as ‘putting chairs out or making tea – you’re building relationships – they become part of a team.’
As well as SDF providing opportunities to people, the volunteers themselves bring a wealth of experience to the organisation, which is essential to the work SDF carries out. Take, for example, the peer research mentioned earlier. SDF Peer Research Volunteers are trained in survey design and interview skills, and carry out research and evaluations with people who use substances for Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships (ADPs), services and academics. Due to their shared experiences, the Peer Researchers are often able to strike a rapport with participants and, as a result, gain more truthful and informative responses.
Volunteers are also able to use their past experiences to assist services to review their delivery. According to Jason, ‘It’s about volunteers using their own experience and looking for solutions.’ The services listen to those suggested solutions and this has a further positive effect on the volunteers.
Or take the ‘mystery shopping’ which is slightly different from someone checking out how a supermarket is doing. It is, after all, the Scottish Drugs Forum so on the shopping list today could be a Needle Exchange. Indeed, this is an area that may well already be known to the volunteer but this time they’re seeing it from the other side.’
They’re looking at the posters and seeing what the interaction is with the staff; has it got the type of equipment you’re looking for and do you feel better for having been in there? The volunteers are using ‘skills that they might not have been previously exposed to but were always there’.
But they’re not left without support. It’s not just Jason that’s there to pick them up if they need some sort of help. ‘There’s a group of people there to help them if they’re struggling. It’s about bonding as a group.’
So, what kind of volunteers is Jason, and the SDF looking for?
‘We’re looking for volunteers all the time because we have a number of activities in different areas, so we’re always on the lookout. People approach volunteering for different reasons. We’re looking for some form of motivation, engagement and a willingness to listen.’
Jason’s final words in the interview summed up what volunteering with the Scottish Drugs Forum means for him and everyone else involved.
‘The most important thing is that people decide that they want to do it. They’re not doing it because somebody told them to. They’re coming along because they believe they can get something out of it.’
And at this point, John, the interviewer, switched off his recorder and nodded in agreement.