The Homeless Outreach & Support Team (HOST) is managed by Riverside Care & Support

A Volunteer’s Story – Part Two

James’ story of personal transformation continues.

10 December 2016

I moved into my own flat, and while it was terrifying, with planning and sheer determination I boxed it all and went.

I saw this as a nudge from my housing support worker, a way of saying, “OK, time to crack on, James, and get sorted.”

It took me 10 days to unpack. As I neared the end of it, I realized I needed to change a few things.

21 December 2016

I was 22 stone and medicated for Type 2 diabetes, asthma, depression, and a whole load of other stuff. I didn’t drink or smoke.

I went for a walk and by the time I returned I’d walked nearly nine miles around Leeds.

I returned to my flat, exhausted. It would have been great to have someone to walk with or just visit me. The hardest part of that initial period was loneliness. I didn’t know anyone in the area. The transition from shared rooms to my own flat was very difficult during those first few weeks. Outwardly I seemed OK, but internally I was a train wreck.

I’m only 46, but I saw my life as over. I was not moving forward and had nothing to offer anymore. I felt totally useless. Thankfully, my support worker Denise ‘simply wasn’t going to allow me to just sit back and waste away’.

I soon learned that with help from others and a lot of soul-searching, I have a lot to offer.

I remember when the idea of volunteering came up. It took me a long time to decide if it was for me – or even if I had anything to offer. At that point, I didn’t say a way forward in my own life. Helping someone else just seemed like madness.

But once I had moved, I could take walks, buy things to make my new place more like home, and make plans for the future.

I still felt unsure about volunteering. But over the next few weeks, with a fair amount of support, I completed my DBS check and then began to look at how I could best contribute. It was worth the wait!

In the past, I’d built my business up on my own. I have always done things my way and taken guidance from no one. My whole approach had to change. I learned the importance of listening and asking questions.

Volunteers are not only effective in reaching out to people with similar experiences, but also in providing a long-term source of support and comfort, outside of ‘official’ channels. At crucial times, such as when moving into independent housing, they can help people navigate a new area, or simply be a listening ear.

Throughout my life, I have travelled, given talks, and always been around people. But in the last 12 months, the support team I’ve met have changed me and how I see the world.

They saved my life and helped me find a path forward. They brought a torch and allowed me to see.

I have no experience in volunteering. But I think of it as a commitment to help someone. They help you just as much as you help them.

This is why we volunteer, so when we go home, we can know that someone, somewhere hasn’t been alone.

I have since lost over six stone, I walk more than 15,000 steps a day. I’ve even reversed my diabetes and poor blood pressure.

My story isn’t unique.

I still need and welcome support from Denise sometimes, and guidance in all things volunteering. I learn more every time.

It doesn’t matter if you’re shy or loud. If you decide to volunteer, you will meet some lovely people. We all do the same thing. We care.