We recently celebrated our Heroes of the Pandemic Volunteer Awards, which recognised the hard work and dedication of our wonderful volunteers over the last year.
In this blog, one of our award winners, Sara Ramos Pinto discusses her role with Mulberry House in Bath, the impact it has had and how she has had to adapt in response to COVID-19.
Role and why to volunteer
I volunteer with Mulberry House (a supported housing service for people living with and recovering from mental health issues) as a walking group facilitator.
On the walks, we literally just walk and talk. We talk about anything and everything, and along the way we’ve got to know each other more. Sometimes we share worries, sometimes we share goals or interests and sometimes we don’t share at all – sometimes people don’t want to talk and that’s okay too.
I decided to volunteer with St Mungo’s because I am a strong believer in community and now that I had settled in Bath I wanted to actively participate in the community of Bath. I am also acutely aware that we all have a tendency to live in our own bubbles, only spending time with people who are similar to us. I looked around me and realised everyone was a university lecturer (like me!), and I thought there’s something not right about this. I wanted to burst that bubble and have contact with new people who had different experiences, different backgrounds and different lives.
I reached out to a friend who worked at Mulberry house and she told me about the volunteer opportunity, which thankfully worked out!
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on volunteering
When lockdown first hit, we weren’t able to meet up due to the restrictions, so during these times I have kept in contact with everyone in the house over email instead, sharing pictures and challenges to keep us going.
When we have been able meet up, for example during the summer, everyone was really excited and we had even more people involved in the walks than usual. Everyone has been indoors and more isolated than usual, so walking in a group and enjoying the astonishing nature of Bath was exactly what we all needed and a rare moment of normality!
Sadly, due to the latest lockdown, our walks had been on hold again, but now that we are easing out of this we’ve been able to start them up again and enjoy the spring! The next step would be to organise a longer walk, maybe doing the skyline walk, or a longer walk with a picnic in the middle.
Highlights of volunteering during a challenging year
During one walk, a client expressed hopelessness about their prospects of getting employment due to them having dyslexia. The client was new to the group, so I decided to take the opportunity to disclose that I also had moderate dyslexia. The client was really taken aback as he couldn’t believe that I, as an academic, had dyslexia! He had lots of questions and we talked openly about it, breaking down the assumptions and misconceptions. It was truly special!
The impact of volunteering
I think through sharing information about our lives, we have made connections which has helped people to feel safe and open up. As a result, I have seen the group grow in confidence. For some, this has meant talking more on walks, whilst others have even started volunteering themselves and considering further education options.
The staff at Mulberry House say that the walks are doing a ‘world of good’ and are a ‘lifeline to clients’ but I often think it has benefited me more than them!
I’ve learnt and shared so much and it’s helped me to put my own life in perspective. When you are in your own bubble, sometimes things that aren’t that significant can seem really big and important. But when you hear about other people’s experiences and establish a connection with that person, you start to realise what really matters. In addition to now knowing a lot more about plants, animals, the city of Goa in India or the new lingo of generation Z, this experience has only reinforced my belief in community and how important it is to have connections with people who have different life experiences to you.