Volunteering - A Personal Experience

Our Peer Group volunteer, Wilson Paterson, shares, in his own words,  his experience of volunteering for us at Headway East Northants


I retired about 11 months before I had expected to. My line and manager and I recognised that my personal situation (taking care of wife, Viv, who has acquired brain injury) was making it hard to focus fully on my work. I was also getting very bored with the less stressful work I was reassigned to after my long sick leave.

In retirement I didn’t want to sit on my backside all day, and one of the great intangible benefits of work is the social interaction it provides. Volunteering was one of my aims, and given Viv’s connection with Headway and the support I received, I thought it might be a suitable organisation to help. While my technical skills from work weren’t relevant, the extensive soft skills which I had developed during my time in work provided me with a good basis for doing something new. I spoke to Jean, former centre manager, about becoming a volunteer, and after the necessary checks, I was warmly welcomed into the team.

I had had an insight into how volunteering might work during my visits to collect Viv, when I would join in her Scrabble game. My initial thought once I joined the volunteering team was some sort of back room role, where I could use my administration and organisational skills, but Jean and Jonny suggested I sit in on the peer support group. I did this, with Jonny leading. I did this and found to my surprise that it was a good fit. Thanks to my previous role, I was used to being involved with discussions, often on difficult topics. I was also used to dealing with a variety of people and had good self-awareness, which allowed me to see how issues affect others.

I also helped out one morning in the kitchen, supporting a client with his work. I enjoyed this, again doing something which suited me, as I latterly did all the cooking for myself and Viv. Supporting someone else on a one to one basis uses skills and attributes developed at work and in athletics. It was good to do something  hands on, and I was encouraged and supported by facilitator,  Janine. The support and encouragement of Headway EN staff and fellow volunteers made the journey a lot smoother for me. I feel looked after and appreciated, with great care taken by managers not to overburden me, which encourages me to give of my best.

I continued assisting Jonny on the Peer Support Group, until one Thursday morning, he asked me to try starting off the session independently, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Jonny and I agreed that I was able to lead the group on my own. The clients were all happy about this, and Tim, my fellow volunteer in the group, was supportive, so we went ahead. Initially I selected topics for discussion based around the excellent Headway fact sheets on brain injury. However this structure occasionally made the sessions rather more like lectures. The clients themselves would bring up matters related to the topic, which would then in turn stimulate conversations beyond, which were interesting and addressed concerns or matters of interest.

I have no formal training in speech and language therapy, but I did recognise that stimulating conversation is a useful therapy, in terms of addressing specific ABI issues but also worries or, more widely, interests.

After a time I changed my approach in terms of topics by having a topic in reserve, but asking the clients if they have any issues they wish to raise. The issues vary widely, sometimes welfare and benefits are discussed, but often we talk about old films, television programmes or wider social issues. My aim is to encourage participation and for us to support each other with the extensive experience represented in the room in living with ABI – and to have a laugh if possible!

My aim is not for me to lead the group but to facilitate it. I want the participants to decide on what to discuss and will only step in if things flag.

There is a core group who attend, but we are occasionally joined by new members.  I encourage them to tell their story and we share ours. Very often, this is just what the new client needs, and they don’t return. That simple chat has helped lessen their feelings of isolation by talking to people who understand.

After the session I complete a report on our discussions in the group.

I really enjoy our sessions. I leave afterwards with a spring in my step, I am contributing to the rehabilitation of our clients. However, Headway, clients, staff and volunteers, reciprocate in contributing greatly to my wellbeing. 

Volunteering at Headway is simply the best job I have ever had. And I don’t get paid!

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Headway East Northants

61 High Street



Call 01933 652311

Registered Charity

Registered Charity 1085311.

Company Registration 03788049

Affiliated to Headway UK– the brain injury association a Registered Charity