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Becoming a Sobell House volunteer

31st March 2022
This article was kindly written by Chris Robinson.

“I have been a Sobell House Bereavement Volunteer for almost 12 years and completed my training in 2010. I joined the service after being sent a poster at the GP Practice, where I worked as Practice Manager, asking for bereavement volunteers for Sobell House. I put the poster on the noticeboard, and a voice in my head said ‘I could do that’. I applied and went through the rigorous recruitment process of application, interviews, and references, and was accepted for training. The training was very thorough and comprehensive, spread over several weeks, and involving lots of role play! Our training is ongoing, with monthly supervision groups and monthly large team meetings. During the pandemic these have been on Zoom, but we are hoping to get back to meeting in person very soon.

During the past 12 years I have met some extraordinary people; other volunteers, Sobell staff and clients. My fellow volunteers have been a fantastic bunch, and the clients never fail to humble me with their resilience and willingness to share their experiences and fears. To sit alongside someone who is going through probably the worst experience of their life is a privilege and an inspiration. It is extremely satisfying to provide an objective listening ear and to see their progression through what may feel like a very long dark tunnel, to emerge eventually into some kind of light. Some clients may only need a few sessions of support, and others many more. The service is client-led and tailored to their individual needs, although we now generally offer an initial ten sessions.

The pandemic has brought about many changes in the service. Not only were we not allowed to meet up for supervision or large team meetings, but we were not able to meet our clients in person. It had always been normal practice to visit clients in their own homes, or occasionally at Sobell House. A few clients preferred to have their support over the telephone, but the majority of contacts were face-to-face. This all had to change after lockdown, and support was by telephone, or sometimes by Zoom or FaceTime. Now that we have more experience in these other ways of supporting them, we can give our clients a choice of how they wish to communicate with us.

I have lost count of the number of clients I have worked with over the past 12 years but it must be in the hundreds. There have been many memorable moments and it is wonderful to receive thank you cards and to be told that you have made a difference to someone’s life. There are always some clients who make a particular impression on you who you still think about and wonder how they’re doing. I remember well the young woman with two small boys whose husband had a progressive brain tumour and died in Sobell House. She was a complete inspiration with her matter of fact and positive attitude, which she said she had got from her late husband. We saw each other for a few months, after which she decided that she had talked enough and wanted to concentrate on doing other things. She signed up to train for a new career, and was even encouraged by her boys to take part in a competition to do a ‘tough mudder’ assault course and then spoke on daytime TV about why she had entered. Whatever she’s doing now, I’m sure she’s making a great success of it.

In summary, being a bereavement volunteer has been a very positive part of my life. Often the stories are heartbreaking, but the work is not depressing as many people assume, as we are uplifted by the strength and resilience of our clients, and the knowledge that our support is really making a difference to them. I’m very glad that I saw that poster!”