July’s months guest blogger is Sarah, one of our lovely support workers here at YMCA Burton.
“Winter 2017 saw incredibly cold weather with the beast from the east hitting Britain February 2018. I met a man who was street homeless in Swadlincote who was fortunate enough to be offered a room free of charge in a local pub until the snow cleared. It was during this time that my eyes truly opened to the very real crisis of homelessness in the UK.
It was from that moment that I decided I wanted to offer some support, I emailed the YMCA to enquire about volunteering opportunities.
Friday 9th November 2018, I turned up to Burton Albion football stadium and was greeted by the many friendly faces of the YMCA team, given a high vis jacket and set about my role of serving the soups and hot drinks for the incredible people who gave up their bed for the night to sleep in the freezing cold draughty football stadium as they raised money for the YMCA Burton Sleepout.
It was an amazing experience!
Following this I began my volunteering journey with the YMCA night shelter that changed my life completely!
After struggling with my own mental health over the years I had come to a point in my life where I was beginning to question my own existence.
I remember arriving at St Pauls church for the first time, feeling very low and sitting in the car considering turning around and going home, however something inside me gathered the strength to go inside.
I was greeted with the warmest of welcomes from Natasha Aishford and Sean Killion, who is sadly no longer with us. I was inspired by the hard work and passion of the staff and amazing volunteers but I was also humbled by the stories shared by the guests who were using the night shelter to seek refuge from the harsh winter nights.
In 2019 I volunteered for my second year at the Sleepout and the night shelter, during which I saw a job opportunity within the YMCA and applied with no real belief that I would be eligible for the position. After 12 years of working within Children’s services I was offered the position of Support and engagement worker and in December 2019 I took a risk and changed my career path and I can honestly say I have never looked back.
During my time at the YMCA we, as a team have faced some of the biggest hurdles that no one could have anticipated as the world went into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For many people in the country life stopped, no more work, no more school and people became very isolated. This was not the case for all, for the thousands of critical workers including us as support workers life continued and became more challenging.
It has been very challenging at times to continue to support individuals who present as homeless, who struggle daily with addiction and mental ill health as support services closed their doors on face to face support, the emergency services who were already stretched became overwhelmed by the public demand for support.
I was asked to write about what I would like to do for the clients in the future, among many things I could say above all I would love to see improved and more accessible mental health and addiction support services.
I can honestly say that although it has been and continues to be difficult at times it is an honour to work a with a fabulous team of people within the YMCA who strive to provide encouragement and opportunities to enable individuals to develop their full potential.”
Words by Support worker Sarah.
Photo: Sarah in blue t-shirt leading residents on a walk with the help of Stacey (in green) and Brian (in grey)