Volunteers Week: “Volunteering helped me to stay positive”

Published: 5th June 2024
Former Look Ahead customer Annabella shares her experience of volunteering as an expert by experience and quality checker.

Look Ahead expert by experience volunteers and the staff co-production team.

My name is Annabella.

After my time as a Look Ahead customer, I re-joined as a volunteer in 2012. I had been struggling with my mental health at the time and could not sustain paid work. I decided to include volunteering as part of my recovery. Giving to others is really uplifting, it helps me to manage my own wellbeing.

In my first role, I spent half a year as a new service implementation assistant. It was interesting to learn how Look Ahead starts a new service, and it felt great to be part of a process that leads to people getting the support they need.

I was quite a trailblazer in my next position. I spent six months as an expert by experience (EBE) and helped set the EBE programme up in its early days. One of my responsibilities was to lead staff training sessions on mental health and domestic abuse. It meant a lot as I had the opportunity to use my own experiences to help people. The way I see it, by training staff, I have improved the overall quality of support that Look Ahead can offer someone who needs it.

One of my proudest volunteering achievements, however, was the work I did with the organisation’s quality assurance programme. I was a founding member of the customer quality checker team back in 2013. I had a variety of responsibilities. I helped develop questionnaires used to assess support standards, and helped complete audits, including a peer audit of a new medication pilot. I also visited different Look Ahead services to review them from a customer perspective and offer insights. I helped recruit and train other people to join the programme as well. The Look Ahead staff listened to my views on how the new support model could be more effective, it felt really empowering. I continued to do this on an off over several years.

Since then, I’ve also spent six months as a peer support volunteer and have undertaken formal training to become a support worker. I’m pleased to say that I now have a job at a mental health support organisation in Tower Hamlets, and I hope to keep developing my career while continuing to successfully manage my mental health.

Just because I have a job doesn’t mean I’ve given up on volunteering either. I’m currently a member of Look Ahead’s Customer Incident Panel which meets every few months. We look at anonymised incidents and discuss the main lessons to be learned, and how we think the organisation could better deal with similar cases in the future.

I never thought I would spend so many years volunteering, but I’ve always felt helped and supported here. While mental health professionals were working with me to manage my own mental health, volunteering with Look Ahead gave me stability, purpose and helped me to stay positive throughout my recovery. I’ve grown personally and professionally thanks to the wonderful people I’ve worked and socialised with, including fellow customers.

I wouldn’t change anything I’ve experienced in my time at Look Ahead, I feel so grateful for the many opportunities given to me and the kindness I’ve received from everyone.

I would recommend volunteering for Look Ahead to anyone who hopes to be supported, grow, and achieve something they never thought they could.