Doorway and Me, by volunteer Derek

A piece written by Derek, a Doorway volunteer, for reading out at the Doorway AGM on Wednesday November 21st 2012, in St Andrew’s Church in Chippenham. Derek could not be at the meeting, so this was read out verbatim by Doorway Support Worker Mike. They are Derek’s thoughts rather than being a statement by Doorway.

My name is Derek. I have been a volunteer at Doorway for about 3 years. I am a retired person with a background that I thought would be useful at Doorway. Fortunately Doorway thought the same and I spent time at training days to prepare me. I would just stress here that if any of you were to volunteer, you do not get dropped in at the deep end.

My background is as follows: I am married and we are parents of six children. I started working life at 16 when I joined the RAF as an apprentice and qualified as an electronics technician. After 18 years in the RAF I took early retirement. I trained and qualified as a residential social worker but when the work strain conflicted with family responsibilities, I realized that I needed to move on. I retrained as a technical author and spent a more ’normal’ life style as an 8 to 5 employee. During this time I became involved in setting up Waste Not Want Not, a furniture recycling charity that also encourages and trains volunteers, and whose customer base is people in receipt of benefits. I also helped set up, and was a director of, Wiltshire Wood Recycling, a Community Interest Company that also encourages volunteers.

Alzheimer’s, when it appeared 3 years ago, made me retire my directorship at WWR, and left me with some time on my hands.

I had been aware of Doorway for some time. I had become more aware of alcohol and drug problems when one of my sons became a drug addict and dealer and eventually sentenced to prison. With this background in mind and my eventual retirement I got involved with Doorway. I thought that some of my social work training, my varied careers, and personal experiences would be of use to Doorway.

After completing the initial induction training I was invited in as a volunteer under supervision. I continue to be impressed by the amount of support and supervision available to all volunteers.

There was lots of support and debriefing at the end of each session as part of the normal routine. This I found to be very interesting and informative. I was also made aware that there was individual supervision available at all times.

What do I do at Doorway?

May I now point out that one of Doorway’s many positives is that no two volunteers are the same. What I do at Doorway, my background, and how I pass my time at Doorway is possibly unique to me (I hope), as are the attributes of each of the other volunteers.

What do I do at Doorway is a question I am sometimes asked and my flippant reply is often “I get a free meal for doing what I enjoy best, which is talking to people.” My main role is talking to guests and, probably more important, also listening to guests.

Our guests have a variety of needs which are very similar to most other people. – food and shelter, clothing and someone to communicate with. Doorway can provide all of these except the shelter. I was horrified when I realized that some of our guests often did not have a proper meal from one session to the next. I was even more horrified to realise that some of our guests did not have a proper conversation from one session to the next.

Although I have served an apprenticeship in washing up in the kitchen, serving behind the coffee table and issuing clothing , and still do these task, the thing I enjoy most is providing the conversation. If I were to go without human contact or conversation from Monday through to the Thursday , and then again through to Monday, I would be in Purgatory, I cannot think of anything worse.

One of my major highlights at Doorway, and one of which I feel proud, was to give a guest a straight answer when he asked me a question. I have a very sensitive nose and was well aware of his lack of hygiene and of his living conditions. In response to me frequently offering him a shower, an offer he never took up, he eventually responded by asking “Do I smell?”. He was shocked when I said “well, actually, yes”. He did not have regular access to shower or bath outside of Doorway; he was a heavy drinker and was unaware of the effect of his personal hygiene on other people. He is still a guest, takes a shower frequently of his own volition, and sees me as a good friend.

In my early days as a volunteer, a guest made the heartbreaking decision to part with her newborn child and offer the child for adoption. A very difficult decision to make, and I was able to help her from my own life experience of having adopted two children, many years ago. I was able to help her realize that adoptive parents are ‘normal people’. Seeing me as an example of an adoptive parent may well have ressured her that her child would almost certainly be well looked after.

Basically the guests are all individuals and are treated as such at Doorway. Each reacts differently to each volunteer in the same way as all individuals do, whether they are working, unemployed, retired, homeless, male or female, gay or straight.

They are guests, full stop.

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