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From volunteer to staff member: Vanessa

Originally a volunteer blog writer for Guideposts, Vanessa has become an integral part of the team and plays a central role in our marketing and communications department. Today’s interview looks at her journey with Guideposts and the exciting projects she has worked on over the last year.

What made you decide to start volunteering?

Last spring / summer I was furloughed from my job so I had time on my hands and looking for something I could usefully do. I had already volunteered for the Royal Voluntary Service but I hadn’t had any calls – after all, millions of volunteers had signed up but they only needed so many people. Then an email popped up from Oxford Hub saying that Guideposts were looking for someone who could help with blog writing and information production. And I thought I could have a go at that! It was the right thing at the right time – sometimes life just works that way.

What was the application process like?

The Oxford Hub put us in contact and within a couple of weeks I had a meeting with Guideposts over Teams. There wasn’t a set role description, but the work they wanted me to help with was presented in a very clear and straightforward manner. There also wasn’t an expectation to get a certain amount of work delivered in a certain time – it was more a discussion of ideas that I was able to contribute to. By the end of the meeting I had picked from a list of things to start writing about, and I started the work soon after.

“I had no idea my blog about things to do on a video call would be read 30,000 times”

How did the volunteer role itself go?

I went into the volunteer role thinking I’d be able to focus and write something every day, but once things started to open up again for the summer, this didn’t happen. Luckily the work was flexible and I was able to fit it in with other things.

I started off by writing what I knew most about and aligned with my interests (music and tourism). When I wrote on a less familiar subject I was able to get support and feedback from Avril and Nick at Guideposts. Sometimes the writing didn’t come easily – but I still had a go.

It took a while for some of the things I wrote to take off. I had no idea my blog about things to do on a video call would be read 30,000 times, for example!

How did you become a staff member?

A couple of months in, Guideposts offered me work in their information service as an information and signposting coordinator. I was taken aback by the offer – it was very flattering! I would be helping people struggling with their wellbeing through all sorts of different means, by providing information about exercise, arts, support groups and so on – any non-medical support options that could help someone feel better.

I liked the idea of the service, and it was closer to other work I had done in the past, with my customer service and tourism background. The idea of being able to help people in some way during the pandemic appealed to me as well.

I worked at the information service for six months. Eventually a new opportunity came up in head office to be more involved in the content writing for the whole charity. It was more of a return to what I had started out doing as a volunteer, but in a wider capacity. So I said yes – and that’s where I work now!

Vanessa with the redesigned Guideposts Spring Newsletter

What have been the highlights of your time with Guideposts so far?

The main highlight has been meeting everyone in Guideposts. Each service is quite discrete. There’s no one service that I haven’t been interested and impressed by. Being a new person gives you an excuse to ask people about their work and be nosy!

Other highlights: occasionally you get to the end of a piece and it ends up in print, and you take a step back, and you say “I like that one, it’s worked out well”. I was particularly happy with one of the blogs I helped to write for Dementia Action Week, for example. I was also impressed by how well we pulled together the Spring Highlights.

What have you learned through volunteering/working for Guideposts?

I have learned lots – it’s a very different role to anything I have done before. It’s the first job where writing has been the focus. Working from home has been a challenge, but you learn what your own capabilities are when you don’t have the momentum of an office around you. And just coming into this organisation and finding out about the wide range of work it does has been a huge learning experience.

What would you say to other people who are wondering whether to volunteer?

Go for it! You might find something unexpected.

If you want to learn something in particular, volunteering is a great way to do it.

Even if you’re not sure what you can contribute, it would be unusual not to get something positive out of it – so I would say if you’re wondering, give it a try!

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