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John talked about how he first got into volunteering and his volunteer experiences so far. John is part of Gaywest and the Brigstowe Project in Bristol and through his volunteering helps people out of social isolation and loneliness. Many people John works with are isolated because of their health conditions, or because they might be stigmatised due to their HIV diagnosis.
John always wanted to volunteer to give back to society. He considered many charities, but finally narrowed his options down to Age UK Bristol, Dorothy House, Julian Trust, Terrence Higgins Trust and the Brigstowe Project. It was important for him to volunteer within the LGBTQ+ community, as he likes to refer to it, and this led him to Gaywest and Brigstowe Project. As a volunteer, John is helping people who might be newly diagnosed or in difficult time in their life living with or managing their HIV diagnosis. John helps people be more empowered and actively supports people to socially connect with others, using his skills learned over the years. John noted that health conditions can make it extremely difficult to socially mix with others, and this can be due to social anxiety, mobility issues, lack of confidence, depression or even finding it difficult to seek out support services.
According to John, people receive a lot back when they volunteer. Actively giving and helping others to tackle social isolation and loneliness can be a great source of accomplishment and happiness. Volunteers often receive on-going training and support and John too has gained a great support network for himself through volunteering. As a volunteer, John can also share experiences with other volunteers and attend local events. John also felt that it was important for him to volunteer for his physical and mental health, to increase his social circle, provide structure to his week, build confidence, make friends and generally have more sense of purpose in life.
John noted that LGBT communities and older generations in general are still fighting homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Many still face stigma and need support and encouragement to join groups. Many people John works with are vulnerable, isolated and have low incomes. Helping to empower these people and be friends with them gives John great reward. He says he feels a sense of achievement when he meets a person and sees how they change over the six months he works with them. After six months, he sees a different face, a different persona, happiness and smile, all because the person had someone supporting and holding their hand for six months, being there for a chat, text or a phone call. “Just to chat to someone on the phone, just even once a week can make such a difference to someone’s wellbeing”, John said.
John encouraged others to volunteer. He thought that especially those who are good listeners and enjoy a chat should get in touch with local LGBT groups and make the move towards volunteering to make a difference to someone else’s life – and their own life too.
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