May 3, 2016
Robyn joins the MASH team
We asked Robyn about her experience and about volunteering at MASH:
I have always volunteered since I was 17 years old and my college got me involved. At University I discovered the Student Night line needed volunteers. We were open from 8pm – 8am and took calls from students in distress. It meant sleeping in the office, rather than my bed, during shifts but I really enjoyed the interaction and the difference the service made. We were a tiny team and after a year I took the service over as other volunteers moved on. I ran it for 3 more years and won the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Charity’ Award each year for my dedication to ensuring the service was there.
I learnt lots during my Psychology and Criminology degree but volunteering became my passion – I even found a way to get my volunteering into my studies by doing my Dissertation on ‘Volunteer Engagement and Fatigue’.
I have found volunteering is a completely different experience to working for an organisation. I really enjoy the freedom of volunteering. Sometimes staff can be tied down with reporting or record keeping but as a volunteer I was able to spend my entire time focusing on the area I enjoyed the most – supporting vulnerable people.
After University I found a volunteering opportunity at Victim Support doing the initial needs assessments of victims of crime, which was really interesting. After a year this turned into a part-time job which I juggled with my other part-time job in event management. My role was to ensure victims of domestic violence and sexual violence were risk assessed so they were no longer in danger, and then passed to Case Workers for support.
While working at Victim Support I heard about MASH and started volunteering here in late 2014. I was initially drawn to MASH because of their values. It is really important to me that I agree with the ethos of an organisation if I am going to give up my free time to volunteer there. I was also interested because I could be involved in lots of areas at once including homelessness, domestic violence, women, sexual violence and addictions.
I volunteered on the evening sessions at the MASH Drop-In Centre. Women who sex work come into the centre as it is based right in the middle of the red light district. Some women come in regularly and others pop in every now and then. At first I helped by welcoming women and making them a drink or snack and, as I got to know everyone, I would sit and chat with women. We never know who is going to come in and what help they will need and it’s the volunteers who make the Drop-In Centre a welcoming place and develop important relationships with the women so they feel comfortable and trust us. Through the initial Volunteer Training and the on-the-job support my skills have grown and I was given more responsibility taking on jobs such as the Needle Exchange (women who inject drugs are given clean injecting equipment and advice to ensure they are injecting safely) and making referrals to emergency accommodation.
I also did some sessions working out in the Saunas with the team which is headed by our Sexual Health Nurse. We would take support directly to the women working in Saunas or Massage Parlours. MASH have an excellent reputation for in the saunas and we were made very welcome. It’s a great way to reach women who wouldn’t come down to the Drop-In Centre and to help women have some control over their sexual health. Sometimes it would be the only occasion for some women to be able to really talk about herself or her situation was when they came into a private room for a sexual health check with us.
I have also worked at St. Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre as part of the Out Of Hours Crisis Team for the last year. At St. Mary’s people who have been victims of sexual violence have forensic evidence collected and are offered support. They are known as one of the best SARC’s in the country and I am delighted to be part of the team. I advocate for the victim, so I speak to doctors and the police on their behalf, which is so important when people are in such vulnerable positions and having to talk about very personal matters.
Through volunteering I have found a real passion and have met a huge variety of people. I think volunteering will always be a huge part of my life.
I didn’t expect to work at MASH, but I am really pleased the right role has come along. I was told it was the combination of my volunteering at MASH, where I gained experience of supporting women sex workers, and my skills from Victim Support that meant I was offered the Drop-In Development Worker post.
I am really excited and pleased to have started my role. For me it is more than a job – I really care about the women and the organisation. I am working closely with management to ensure the Drop-In continues to develop and uses all the skills of the volunteers and staff. I have been a Volunteer in the Drop-In Centre so I know it can be really rewarding, but also know the frustrations, and I hope I can draw on that knowledge and experience to ensure the experience of volunteering at MASH is as rewarding as possible. We picture a Triage scenario in the Drop-In, where volunteers are supported to provide first level of support, and pass on critical matters to Case Workers. I am also working on extending the activities to ensure they are suitable for everyone and have a real impact. But most of all I would like it it to be a welcoming place where women can relax and get the support they want.