When Ruth Kershaw, 64, retired after over 20 years of childminding she knew that she didn’t want to be a ‘house-wife’ so decided to use some of her spare time to become a Home-Start volunteer. Eleven years on, she hasn’t looked back.
I have always loved children, especially looking after babies and little ones and really enjoyed my years of childminding. But the paperwork that I needed to do for OFSTED was taking the joy away from the actual hands on role and I decided it was time to take early retirement. With spare time on my hands, I knew that I wanted to do something else other than being a housewife.
It wasn’t until I spotted an advert in my local paper, Bradford Telegraph and Argus, that I saw a volunteering role that really appealed to me: becoming a Home-Start volunteer. That was 11 years ago.
The volunteering opportunity was perfect for me because of my childminding experience, my love of children and my own parenting experience, having had two children myself. In the beginning, I supported one family but I enjoyed the role so much, I have supported two families per week for the last ten years.
Each family I support comes with different learning experiences for me. I always make sure that I sit down with the family and find out what their needs are and how they want me to help, whether that is getting down on the floor and playing with the children (which I love doing), being a listening ear or an extra pair of hands. I have had a few families with twins and one mum wanted to take her twins swimming, so I would go with her and get in the pool so she could concentrate on one child, while I concentrated on the other and we would swap twins each week.
I also supported one family, where the little boy had downs syndrome and the family did not know whether he would ever walk. The mum wanted me to support them in encouraging him to stand or walk by doing focused play activities to help. He did start walking at the age of two, which was wonderful. Each family’s needs are very different.
I would encourage anyone who enjoys being with children to give it a go. If you enjoy playing and have some spare time on your hands then give it a go. Not only have I helped over twenty families in my time as a Home-Start volunteer, I also feel more comfortable being in a room with people that I don’t know. I’m a really shy person and the role has made me much more confident socially.
The best part of volunteering is knowing that you have really helped a family. Sometimes you don’t realise how much you have helped them. One mum I supported did not have English as her first language and she fed back to Julie, the Home-Start co-ordinator, that I had really helped her English improve and I hadn’t really thought about that when I was chatting to her – I was just being me! When you get feedback from Julie like that, then that’s when I realise why I am a volunteer – because I am helping and making a difference!