This blog was written by Nicky Gavin, a volunteer peer mentor with VOCAL (Voice of Carers Across Lothian). VOCAL provide both one-to-one and group peer support to carers of people with dementia. This service is one of the Trust’s 13 funded dementia peer support and befriending projects.
Today, as I am looking after my granddaughter (which I do every Friday to allow my daughter-in-law to work), I find myself thinking about the past week.
I have been volunteering with VOCAL – Voice of Carers Across Lothian – for a year now and this has been my busiest week with them so far.
I had so much support from VOCAL when I was new to caring for my father, that I was really keen to give something back. Then Jane Greenacre, who is VOCAL’s Assistant Director and peer mentor co-ordinator, approached me to get involved as a volunteer. We discussed a few roles and I did try working in the carers centre for a bit, which I enjoyed, but when the mentoring project was mentioned, I knew it would be better for me.
I learned so much caring for my Dad and consider myself a people person so it felt a good fit. Going through the training programme, I grew more confident that peer mentoring was something I wanted to do as I would not be giving advice (which I don’t feel qualified to do – what was right for me and Dad might not be right for others), but telling my story, letting others take the things they want to from it, and sharing experiences.
Last week was particularly busy, as I am currently mentoring two different people and we also had a team meeting. On Wednesday, I had my final meeting with a person I have been mentoring for a while. We met in the same quiet cafe we have used for our previous meetings and, at her request, our meeting focussed on my role as my Dad’s power of attorney, so I shared quite a lot about the practicalities of this but also how I felt doing it.
This is something I always try to do, as often my mentees have a good understanding of processes but find it difficult to use them due to the intense emotions involved. Saying our goodbyes was quite difficult as I will not see her again, but I left feeling upbeat as she kindly thanked me for my time and told me that it had been really useful to talk to someone who has been though the same thing as she had – none of her friends had been carers before.
On Thursday I had a first meeting with a new mentee so we met in the Carers Centre (first meetings are always in the VOCAL offices). I got there a bit early to make sure I had the kettle boiled to ensure a warm welcome. My new client was particularly interested in behavioural changes and how I coped with them.
When I talk about this, I always think back to my training and am mindful of identifying the learning from my story, the positives, and the things I would do differently. It might not be too helpful to share all the struggles I had without providing some light at the end of the tunnel!
The meeting went well and I was pleased that said she would like to meet me again. She had been unsure that we would have enough in common as she was caring for her husband, and I was a carer for my Dad, but she found it useful and we scheduled a meeting for two weeks time and she seemed to head off a little lighter than she came in. A number of new clients have been concerned that my Dad’s dementia was different from their own experiences with a loved one. That’s true, but what is common are some of the challenges that we face as families.
The team meeting was good as always. I like going to the Centre and catching up with the staff but the peer mentor team meetings are the only time I see the other mentors.
I like these meetings, as we really got on well as a group when we did our training, but also as it gives me a chance to learn from their work too. The meetings are quite structured by Hazel (the carers support worker who manages us) but she always allows us time to catch up as well and it gives us all time to reflect on how we do our work.
My mentoring journey has so far been really rewarding, and I am glad that it’s a journey I chose to embark on.
With thanks to Nicky Gavin, volunteer peer mentor with VOCAL (Voice of Carers Across Lothian)