Psychotherapy student, Ari* shares their experience of completing a clinical placement with St Mungo’s Psychotherapy service, LifeWorks

    Why did you apply for a placement with St Mungo’s?

    This is my first psychotherapy placement but I was intrigued by the opportunity to work with and help clients with complex needs and to support those who may not have the means to refer themselves to local services or community counselling services.

    Who are the clients you support?

    I support current and previous residents of St Mungo’s and other clients of St Mungo’s support services. Some people have experienced homelessness, others haven’t but have other support needs.

    Is your placement remote or in-person?

    I started my placement with St. Mungo’s during the pandemic. It was a funny time to start at LifeWorks as they had recently had to change their model from supporting clients in person to working remotely. Now restrictions have lifted, I’m starting to meet client’s in-person at a local hostel. I’m lucky that there is a fantastic hostel located nearby to me as my time is quite limited – it’s a great selling point that there are many hostels ran by St. Mungo’s all over the place, so there’s plenty of options for trainees.

    How have you found working in the hostel?

    My experience of the hostel has been great! I have a private room for my client sessions, staff are happy for me to reorganise the furniture and as the room is only accessible by staff I know we won’t have any interruptions. It is also reassuring knowing that after our sessions end the hostel staff are there to offer my clients ongoing support.
    I love working with my client’s in-person and have found the experience so rewarding.

    Have you felt supported during your placement?

    My LifeWorks supervisor is so supportive and they make sure I’m comfortable with every client referral I take on. We also have fortnightly clinical supervision which is run in small groups with one or two others and is psychodynamic orienteered. It’s helped my learning having a supervisor who knows the client group very well as I’ve really been able to explore my clients’ issues in depth and get a lot of insight.

    Have you had any challenges during your placement?

    It can be quite challenging to arrange sessions because of the chaotic nature of the some of the residents’ lives. However, if there was someone who wasn’t turning up repeatedly, my supervisor helped me put boundaries in place so that it wouldn’t go on too long. It didn’t take long for me to build client relationships and I now have three clients who I see regularly.

    What do you enjoy most about your St Mungo’s LifeWorks placement?

    My placement with St. Mungo’s has allowed me to gain experience with clients with complex needs. I’ve had the same clients since the beginning which is something that I really value about my placement. It’s rare for a placement to be so open-ended so I like that I can work with my supervisor and client to agree when to finish our sessions. Another thing I value is that LifeWorks will support people who are in active addiction. This is unique as a lot of therapy/psychological organisations will only offer help to those who are abstinent.

    Would you like to do a clinical placement or gain work experience with St Mungos?

    Check out our current volunteering opportunities or get in touch with studentplacements@mungos.org

    Karl’s Volunteering Story

    Karl has been volunteering with StreetLink, a service that helps connect people who are sleeping rough with local services available to them, since October 2021.

    Here he shares his motivations to volunteer, his experience with StreetLink and the importance of this vital volunteer-led service.

    Street homelessness is a very precarious situation and an increasingly pressing social justice issue. Unfortunately, it has become very common in the UK, to the point of being normalised in many parts of the country.

    I decided to volunteer with StreetLink because I wanted to support people who are experiencing street homelessness and I liked that StreetLink had a wide reach, offering support to people across the country.
    Every day StreetLink receives many calls and web alerts, and the team (made up of staff and volunteers) help to connect clients to support services so they can get further help to address their housing and welfare situation.

    I volunteer once a week for 2 hours, from St Mungo’s head office near Tower Bridge. When I arrive, there is always a staff member there to welcome me and get me settled in – which really helps you to feel a part of the team.

     

    “The most memorable call I have taken was a caller who told me that this was the first time they could remember being spoken to like a human being”

     

    The calls I take can vary from shorter calls where a member of the public wants some information about local services to longer calls where someone is reporting a sleep site – in which case very specific details about the location and person’s appearance are taken to pass on to local outreach teams.
    More challenging calls can sadly come from people who are distressed or experiencing a mental health crisis. Sometimes, a person will need a more urgent response than StreetLink can provide, so we would refer them to their local authority via what is known as a safeguarding concern. On other occasions we’ve had to call an ambulance to do a more urgent assessment. These calls are very difficult for the person calling in, so as a volunteer I make sure to stay calm and use the support of staff where needed.
    Every call you take with StreetLink is memorable in its own way and every experience of homelessness is important.

     

    “City life can be anonymous but these calls show that people still care about their fellow citizens who are struggling.”

     

    In the middle of winter, and on particularly colder nights, it’s very touching to receive calls from members of the public who have spotted someone that appears at risk.Often people will stop to check the person is ok so we can speak to the person via their phone or passing the person’s number on to us. City life can be anonymous but these calls show that people still care about their fellow citizens who are struggling.

    The most memorable call I have taken was a caller who told me that this was the first time they could remember being spoken to like a human being. This was incredibly moving and important – respect and kindness are so basic, but are often lacking. These moments of human connection – supporting people who are struggling and helping them to navigate the system – are so significant for each person who calls.

    I would definitely encourage anyone who has the time and motivation to support people sleeping rough to volunteer with StreetLink. As an individual, St Mungo’s mission to end homelessness can feel difficult to achieve (especially when you look at the volume of calls StreetLink are receiving). However, from my experience, the impact of treating people with respect, helping them to navigate a complex system and access help quicker, will help you to feel like you are contributing towards those broader social justice aims and taking a step closer towards making them real.

    Want to volunteer? Find our current volunteering opportunities here.

    Jeremy and Wendy share their experience of volunteering with First Response

    Jeremy and Wendy have been volunteering with First Response, a service that helps the outreach team find people who are sleeping rough quicker, since March 2022.
    Here they share their motivations for volunteering and how they have found their first couple of months.

    Jeremy’s story:

    In my day job, I work with vulnerable adults in supported housing. I’ve heard so many stories from these adults about their experiences rough sleeping in the past, and it is so visible to see all around on the streets of London.

    London is supposed to be such an affluent place, yet it has one of the biggest problems with homelessness. I decided that I wanted to be involved in work that is directly aimed at trying to get people experiencing homelessness off the streets and safe, and First Response is that.

    “For anyone thinking about volunteering with First Response, I would definitely say give it a try.”

    Outreach workers spend so much time and effort in looking for people experiencing homelessness. As a First Responder, I can help filter out who needs the help, which makes the outreach workers role slightly easier. So many people that are experiencing homelessness do not know where or how to get help for their situation or how to access services.

    A First Responders role is the first step in that individual receiving help. There are times when I have not found anyone throughout the whole shift and it can be disheartening at times. I always remember that when no one is found it can be a positive, as it means less time is wasted and the Outreach Workers can spend their time going to and finding the individuals that are out and experiencing homelessness that night. So even when I feel like my contribution doesn’t count, I’m reminded that it does.

    “My role does make a difference. It may be seen as a small contribution, but if a lot of people contribute small that then grows into something big.”

    For anyone thinking about volunteering with First Response, I would definitely say give it a try. The whole team are so helpful, and I was coached through the whole process. If you are an individual that is looking at practical ways to help people experiencing homelessness, I would recommend First Response. My role does make a difference. It may be seen as a small contribution, but if a lot of people contribute small that then grows into something big.

    Wendy’s story:

    I decided to join First Response as I had set myself a new year’s resolution to do something for my community. Homelessness is a huge problem in London and when I found out that St Mungo’s had open applications and offered training and support for this work, I decided to apply.

    On my first shift, I went out with another volunteer who was new. The shift went surprisingly smoothly as the training beforehand had been comprehensive, covering all the questions we might otherwise have had. Unfortunately my first shift, in February, was on the coldest night of the year, but I still enjoyed meeting my shift partner, and all of the St Mungo’s team were really supportive.

    “I think that going out as a First Response volunteer has been eye opening and a good way to help end homelessness.”

    I have now been out on 4 First Response shifts. On my 3rd shift, I was sent an email letting me know how many people sleeping rough that my partner and I had found were subsequently seen by the Outreach team. It was very motivating to know people were getting support.

    As I am relatively new to this work, I don’t think I know enough to comment on what else could be done to end homelessness yet. However, I really hope that the time between them first being reported to St Mungo’s and their access to support services can be as short a time as possible. Of course, it is upsetting to see the poor physical and mental state of some of the people rough sleeping, particularly on cold nights.

    I would definitely recommend volunteering with First Response. The training and support provided by St Mungo’s is excellent. On a personal level, I have enjoyed meeting the other volunteers when out on a shift. My shift partners have all been curious about doing further training and becoming part of the Outreach team. I think that going out as a First Response volunteer has been eye opening and a good way to help end homelessness.

    Could you Volunteer?

    View our current volunteering opportunities here.

    Crystal’s Volunteering Story

    Crystal has been a Communications Volunteer with the Volunteer Services team since July 2021.

    Here she shares how she’s increasing the visibility of our inspiring volunteers as well as discussing some of the exciting events we have lined up for this Volunteers Week!

    What inspired you to volunteer?

    I’ve been volunteering with St Mungo’s on and off since the start of the pandemic. I started volunteering at the Emergency Hotels when I was on furlough, and loved it! The experience opened my eyes and showed me how caring and committed St Mungo’s are as an organisation, not only to their clients but their volunteers too.

    After my time at the Hotels ended, I applied to become a Communications Volunteer to use my experience in the marketing sector to help drive the growth of our online volunteer community. I have always been an advocate for social justice and believe communications can be used to drive this social purpose.

    Tell us more about your role?

    My daily tasks include writing and scheduling posts for the Volunteer Facebook page, interviewing and writing up case studies for the St Mungo’s blog, and working on the volunteer recruitment campaigns.

    I really enjoy hearing volunteer’s stories when I interview them. It’s amazing to chat to people who are just as passionate about the organisation’s mission as I am and to learn about their various roles – everything from gardening to psychotherapy volunteers.

     

    “I have always been an advocate for social justice and believe communications can be used to drive this social purpose.”

     

    I especially love hearing from volunteers who have moved into employment through our Volunteer Development Pathway. Their stories are always so inspiring and really highlight the dedication and support the Volunteers Services team provide.

    What’s been your favourite project so far?

    I love that I get to connect with so many different people across the organisation but my most recent project has definitely been my favourite so far!

    For Volunteers Week, I have helped to organise a Webinar talk with Kerri Douglas, an ex-client of St Mungo’s and author of ‘From Gutter to Glory’. On Tuesday 7th of June, Kerri will be joining us to talk about her experiences of homelessness and the impact volunteer relationships had on her recovery. She is such an inspiring person who is always open to talk about her experiences. I know volunteers and staff will find so much value in her talk

    Any hopes for the future?

    I would love for the volunteer’s online platforms to grow even more and for all of us to engage with each other more. Meeting like-minded people and talking about each other’s volunteer roles can open so many opportunities and give people a sense of community they might not have had before.

    I would also love to do more in-person meet ups with the rest of the volunteers. I’m so looking forward to Volunteers’ Week this year and will be attending our in-person London event as well as Kerri’s webinar, so if you’re a fellow volunteer then please don’t be shy – come and say hello!

    Find our current volunteering opportunities here.

    Building confidence through gardening: Emily’s story

    Emily explains how the Putting Down Roots team have been preparing for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and how gardening can help clients to build confidence.

    “I’m Emily and I’m a Gardener Trainer for Putting Down Roots. One of the places I work is at our beautiful gardens at Cedars Road in Clapham. We run gardening groups here twice a week, where we have a whole range of exciting horticultural things, including a herb garden, vegetable beds, a fish pond, poly tunnel, greenhouse and a really great compost area. Plus a lovely warm classroom for when it’s chilly.

    “The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is the main event in the gardening calendar, so it will be a great experience for the whole Putting Down Roots team. Personally, I enjoy learning about the backstory of the different gardens, of why they’ve been designed and planted. I find that quite interesting, sometimes more interesting than the gardens themselves!

    “Our clients are very excited, and it’s a brilliant opportunity for them to see a big project through from start to finish. They’ve potted up and planted the actual plants that are being used within the garden, and have also been involved in preparing and planting up the design in situ at Chelsea. After the show, they’ll be helping to move the garden to its final home and destination in London Bridge. It will be a really good learning curve for them.

    “Darryl (the garden designer) has chosen an interesting selection of plants; predominantly native and wildlife friendly. It’s wonderful that the garden will be giving back to wildlife after the show, even in a busy urban setting like London Bridge. The trees we’re using are Hawthorn and Sorbus, which produce beautiful blossom, as well as berries – a great source of food for birds.

    “Overall, I hope this experience will help to grow our client’s confidence. That’s a lot of what we do really, helping people build their confidence through gardening. Perhaps it will give them inspiration to envisage what they could create in their own spaces – if they’ve got a garden, a balcony, or even just a windowsill inside, there’s so much they can do.”


    Find out more about putting Down Roots at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show here.

    Breaking the cycle: Volunteering in our prison service

    Volunteering to support people in prison

    Sophie is a Housing Support Volunteer with our criminal justice service. Here, she shares her experience of volunteering in prisons and gives advice to new volunteers.

    I have been a volunteer with St Mungo’s for almost a year.  I previously volunteered in prison with 18-25 year olds, supporting them into Education, Training and Employment opportunities. This experience taught me a lot – primarily which you have to be able to connect with people.

    A prison can be an intimidating place to work but after a while you realise a few things; you need to be able to listen, be patient and be completely honest with people. My advice for new volunteers is don’t say or do anything just to get clients to like you. Sometimes people will be upset (it’s understandable considering the highly stressful situation they are facing) but the best thing you can do is be truthful and clear in explaining the support you can offer – after all, it’s about them and not us. The system you are dealing with is slow, cumbersome, frustrating and sometimes just wrong. It can be frustrating not being able to help people as much as you want to, but you learn to take pleasure in the small wins.

    As a Housing Support Volunteer, my role can range from finding someone on the wing to ask a few questions, calling a council housing department and sitting on the telephone for 45 minutes waiting for someone, anyone, to answer, or just making the tea. And when you can help, it feels like you have done a good thing, however small.

    A good example of this happened today when I helped a client change his probation officer. This may seem like a small thing to us, but the client was pleased that I took the time to listen and help him with his request.  As a Housing Support volunteer I just hope that I can support the St Mungo’s staff who have the almost impossible job of finding somewhere for the clients to live on release. Everyone at St Mungo’s has shown total commitment to the job – it seems to be almost a calling and I hope I have been able to help them.

    Volunteering makes Tuesday a highlight for me

    Role and motivation to volunteer

    I began to volunteer in January 2020 with the Recovery College. My role is life-coaching, specifically in a group setting. I would describe life coaching as software engineering for people! We are all programmed by our past experiences, so sometimes we need to review our software to make sure we are using the right programme for what we want to achieve and that there is nothing misdirecting us. In our group sessions we clarify goals that clients want to achieve, identify obstacles holding them back and then come up with strategies to overcome these obstacles. Every client will set a goal that they want to achieve at the beginning of the course. This could be anything from improving their health, starting a musical project or increasing their self-esteem.  We review our progress in each session, increasing self-awareness through questioning ourselves in a safe and supportive environment. It is less about giving people advice and more about giving people the opportunity to explore themselves. We work on overcoming challenges together. During the sessions, everyone gets a chance to speak and works on their goals outside of the group. This ensures clients remain on track to achieve their goals and the group gives people a chance to reflect and work on their progress.

    I wanted to volunteer with St Mungo’s after meeting a street fund raiser and he explained St Mungo’s cause. I was really moved by this and wanted to contribute in a way other than financially. I thought I could use my skills with the organization, so I contacted the volunteering team at St Mungo’s and things went from there, now here I am!

    The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on volunteering

    When the first lockdown happened we weren’t able to meet up to have the sessions in person, so we quickly adapted and changed to a digital model to deliver the sessions remotely. This was actually a more convenient and effective method to run the course. After some initial technical hitches and getting familiar with working online, it was easier for people to log in remotely rather than travelling to the Recovery College. It also made it more accessible for people, so we were able to offer the course to more clients.

    There have been some challenges in that it is harder to build a rapport remotely rather than in person and there have been some technical issues in getting clients connected, but overall I would say it has made volunteering more accessible and convenient. Everyone has become more familiar and comfortable in the setting. Also, I am currently in Prague and am still able to volunteer so it is great to have this flexibility!  Whilst the pandemic has made volunteering easier, Covid-19 has obviously made life more challenging for everyone.

    The impact of volunteering and highlights of volunteering during a challenging year

    Every Tuesday is a highlight for me. I love to see clients progressing and working towards their goals. Every week we have an opportunity to learn from each other’s journeys and progress as we uncover the answers which lie within ourselves. Seeing clients improving their confidence, decision making skills, assertiveness, changing their life perspective, increasing their self-esteem, and more is really rewarding. Volunteering gives me a real sense of purpose and I really enjoy the energy of the group, helping people to realize their goals is incredibly  satisfying and I really enjoy my volunteering experience!

    Volunteering to help people blossom

     

    Peter is one of our Gardening volunteers at a hostel in Lewisham for people experiencing homelessness. Here, he shares his experience of supporting people in their recovery from homelessness by helping them to grow and learn new gardening skills along the way.

     

    Tell us about your role?

    I work at St Mungo’s Lewisham Assessment and Recovery Centre (LARC) and run the garden group on my own. I get roughly about three or four guests taking part in gardening. The tasks include weeding, planting vegetables and fruit trees, and pruning the garden.

    Our tasks at the moment are are bulb planting and sowing some wildflowers and my plan for the winter would be to build a pergola for the guests.

    Unfortunately, due to lockdown last year I missed the springtime, but I’m looking forward to this year and hopefully more people can get involved.

     

    What kind of tips would you give to someone who would be interested in volunteering as a gardener at St. Mungo’s?

    My tip would be to let the guests figure out what they would like to do at first; they might just want to come and sit and have a chat or they want to do some weeding. You should also try and encourage guests to take on having their own gardening bed to grow some vegetables and flowers.

     

    What kind of training do you receive as a Gardening Volunteer?

    You receive all sorts of training from St. Mungo’s in general. The ones I have done are relating to drug and alcohol misuse as well as a conflict management session. They’ve been quite helpful to understand what the guests are involved in when I’m with them in the garden.

     

    Do you get good feedback? Do guests find it helpful?

    Guests find it therapeutic – when they come out and they do a session out in the garden for an hour or two they normally feel much better, just from being out in the fresh air.

    I have seen changes in people who haven’t done gardening before, and they’ve found it a great experience. These people have also continued with their gardening once they moved on from the centre which is very positive.

     

    What’s your favourite part of the role?

    Meeting different people – they’re an interesting bunch! And the St Mungo’s staff are always so supportive; when I first started by myself, I felt quite nervous, but the staff stood by me and supported me all the way through.

     

    What are your hopes for the future of the garden?

    I’d like to see the garden flourish thorough the seasons, and I think it would be amazing if some residents could take care of the garden independently not just when I am there.

    (more…)

    Volunteering to support people with their mental health

    We take a holistic approach to mental and physical health, addressing these issues alongside each other. Volunteers play a crucial role in helping us to achieve this. Here, Amie shares her experiences of volunteering to support people who’ve experienced homelessness with their mental health.

    My journey with St Mungo’s began in September 2019, I had graduated from University and knew that I wanted to get into the charity sector. I applied for the role of a Mental Health Volunteer at St Mungo’s via their website which I was successful for. I then went through the training with the St Mungo’s Volunteer Services staff. My first role with St Mungo’s was doing the ‘Women’s Morning’ with a mental health service in Bristol which I really enjoyed.

    During lockdown the ‘Women’s Morning’ stopped due to Covid-19 and I was put on furlough from my day job. I then got an email from the Volunteer Services about the emergency hotels and from there I started my second volunteering role as an Emergency Hotel Volunteer which was a unique service to be a part of. I managed to network with a whole range of staff members as the team at the hotel was made up of different services from around the Bristol hub.

    I then went through the locum application whilst volunteering and I picked up a locum shift at a Women’s Services. I had only been there for a month, but I ended up staying there for a year because I loved it so much! I loved trying something new and challenging. I was there for about a year, and then a vacancy came up for the place I’m at now which is a mixed hostel. The role involves more incident and crisis management which I’m also really enjoying.

    At my current role, we’re getting more volunteers into the services which means I’m going to be a supervisor, so I’ve come full circle in such a short space of time!

    Inspiration for why I got involved in volunteering

    I was inspired to start volunteering when I was in my final year of university, I had a bad mental health crisis. This crisis made me realise that I wanted to help and support those who have gone through similar mental health issues. My role as a Mental Health Volunteer at St Mungo’s made me re-evaluate everything of what’s important in life.

    St Mungo’s appealed a lot because there’s great structure for volunteers and they have great training for volunteers. They even paid for me to be a mental health first aider whilst I was a volunteer. I also chose St Mungo’s because of their locum scheme which I think is a great way to inspire volunteers to continue their career into the homeless sector. The volunteer team really make you feel valued as a volunteer.

    The rewards and challenges of volunteering the impact it can have:

    It was quite challenging when I first started in the ‘Women’s Morning’ because I had never worked with people who’ve experienced homelessness before so it was a massive learning curb. At the beginning communication with the people we were supporting was tough and there were some difficult situations. But once you’ve experienced those situations more and more, you feel much more confident. And it was very rewarding, I got to go and do something that I truly enjoyed every day.

    Volunteers play such a crucial role in helping St Mungo’s staff members with support areas such an art therapy, gardening and cooking as the charity can’t have many specialised staff full time for these activities. The volunteers are integral to the people St Mungo’s support and their progression in moving away from the streets as full time staff might not have time to do certain activities and having volunteers come up with ideas for the sessions and planning these sessions is something that’s valuable.

    A moment that still stands out whilst volunteering at St Mungo’s was when I was at the women’s services. I drove someone who had been staying at the service over to their new flat and helped them set up their belongings and home. Seeing them turn their whole life around I’d supported them every step of the way was an emotional but rewarding experience!

    Find out more about current volunteering vacancies here.

    Volunteering in emergency accommodation during the Covid-19 pandemic

    Stuart describes his rewarding experience of volunteering with people housed in emergency hotel accommodation during the pandemic.

    Having previously spent close to 15 years working overseas with British health NGOs and the United Nations in critical emergency situations, I never could have envisaged the situation that would unfold in the UK just over one year ago as the pandemic took hold. Those working conditions with which I had become familiar elsewhere were now a part of UK daily life: vulnerable communities, breakdowns in supply chains, restrictions on movements and personal freedoms coupled with national uncertainty, fear, and anxiety.

    At the onset of the pandemic, a call went out from the British Red Cross with whom I have been involved for the last two years, seeking volunteers to assist St Mungo’s with the Everyone In response that was accommodating rough sleepers across a number of hotels in London. Having had a long-term interest in the issue and causes of homelessness dating back to my time at university, I was keen to sign up!

    My role supporting the team and vulnerable people

    Those first few visits to the Limehouse hotel, where up to 150 people were being accommodated and supported by Mungo’s, were quite surreal. Travelling in an empty carriage on the DLR through a deserted Canary Wharf is something that will stay with me for a long time and certainly brought home the deadly threat facing the country.

    Working conditions too were adapted to this new environment with personal protective equipment now a requirement. Whereas in my previous working life, PPE had consisted of the need for 12kg body armour in Gaza, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, this time around it took the form of masks, gloves and gowns as well as the need for two metre spacing and the constant wiping down of public surfaces. I initially found masks to be quite an intrusive barrier to communications with clients and colleagues however, as always, one adapts.

    Since starting at Limehouse towards the end of April 2020, I have also worked at a hotel in Leyton and most recently Greenwich. This has typically involved one full day a week or more recently two half- day shifts. The work is predictable but essential! As a result of Covid-19 requirements, communal indoors eating is obviously no longer possible. My principle role along with those of the other volunteers is very much focussed on the provision of the daily meals which involves going from room-to- room three times daily and providing pre-prepared food to the clients.

    Outside of the food runs, the main task is to act as an interface with the clients for basic requests, so that the St Mungo’s team can be left to get on with the all-important casework. Everyone In has provided St Mungo’s with a great opportunity to get clients’ lives back on track, whether this is through the ability to look at longer-term housing options as well as connecting with health and dental services and the benefits system and Home Office. The presence of volunteers in the hotels allows the full-time staff the time to focus on sustainable solutions for the individual clients.

    There have been so many highlights of this experience in the last year. Where do I start? Arriving on a shift to learn that one of the clients that you have been supporting for a number of months has found a place to live. Being part of a team of dedicated volunteers and staff seeking to – and succeeding in – making tangible improvements to the life quality of some of the more marginal and vulnerable individuals within our communities. The surprise of learning that I had been nominated by my peers for the Marsh Award!

    Find out more about volunteering at St Mungo’s here.

Go back