Ash found out about volunteering opportunities during his time as a floating support customer at Look Ahead. He excelled in his volunteering duties and has since become one of our bank support workers.
I first heard about Look Ahead after I came out of prison. I lived in a Salvation Army hostel before, but started to have floating support from Look Ahead after I moved into a place of my own.
I took up an offer from the Co-Production Team to help out in services as an expert by experience, and peer support volunteer. My first placement was at an abstinence-based service supporting people around substance and alcohol-misuse in the East End. The people there had complex needs, but I was able to make headway with some customers where staff might have been struggling.
The best thing I did was supporting someone who used to sit silently. He hadn’t spoken to staff for two years, but I sat with him, and managed to have a conversation. That’s where my experience came in. You see, I met all kinds of people in prison, I accepted them for who they were at that moment, I met them where they were, and not where others wanted them to be. I had also studied psychology and counselling before, where I learned engagement techniques. My skills and experience came together, and I knew which questions to ask him and how to ask them.
We chatted about his interests, and he started doing art. He started to engage positively with the staff and I, and has since moved on to his own place. I am so happy I was part of that change.
I’ve had a few other placements since then, including at a couple of young people services. Working with young people has been fantastic. I get the problems they face, I understand gang culture, and I know how drug dealers operate, the customers look up to me and listen to me, because I’ve lived in the same world as them, I have “street clout” you might say. I’m also a qualified personal trainer – it’s what I do for a living – and I bring that into the support I offer. Customers train with me, and I can see how they’re feeling from their body language and behaviour and start the conversation. They confide in me, tell me what’s worrying them, and we’re able to resolve problems together with the staff team.
I’ve also since joined the Look Ahead staff team as a bank support worker, and I’m proud of that. But I’m keeping my volunteering up as well. Volunteering at Look Ahead has been wicked – in the best possible way – and I’m grateful to the Co-Production team for their support and the encouragement they’ve given me on this journey. I would encourage any customers who are interested in volunteering to get involved, your support may be just what someone else needs, what are you waiting for?