Volunteering improved Andy’s mental health and reshaped his career

3rd April 2023

Andy Hay Smiling Cropped

Andy Hay’s mental health took a hit in 2019. Unable to enjoy his job, Andy decided to take a break and engage in talking therapy. This decision eventually led to the Volunteer to Career programme. Andy’s journey has been remarkable, and we recently caught up with him to learn more about his experience.

I used to manage NHS laboratories and mortuaries looking after a lot of different personalities in pressurised environments. By August 2019 I wasn’t enjoying work. It was really stressful, so I took early retirement and decided to focus on my mental health. Originally, I planned on travelling, but then Covid hit, and we all went into lockdown. I kept up with the therapy though and began thinking about what I could do next. So, I got very into learning about mental health and the ways it can affect us and got in touch with the Mental Health Foundation. That led me to Rania Adams, a volunteer manager with Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust and I started volunteering for the Check in and Chat service in February 2022.

Checked in to chat

I’d never done anything like this before.

My role was to listen and signpost people to specialised support if needed. That’s what Check in and Chat is all about. Every person who accessed the service gets a one-hour phone call with the same person for eight weeks. Lots of different people would call with all sorts of things on their mind. During lockdown we had a lot of patients calling, but many clients were often carers, and they had a lot they needed to talk about!

It could be tough, especially when someone was really lonely, upset, and even talking about suicide. But I discovered I was good at listening, empathising, and signposting. At the end of each call, I would write a report along with any signposting recommendations I’d made for Sunita my supervisor to review. If I was really worried about someone’s wellbeing, I would call a supervisor to let them know.

I had a lot of training and great support from the team to help me manage calls and set boundaries. It helped that I would only talk to the same person for eight weeks or when a caller had decided to move on.

Hard to let go

Letting go could be hard. There was one lady I spoke with, and we agreed that getting a rescue dog might really help combat her loneliness and get her out of the house. I wish I knew if she did actually get a dog, but I’ve learned to let go and move on.

Volunteer to Career

Rania told me about the Volunteer to Career programme developed with Helpforce around September 2022. Up to then, I’d focused on applying for peer-to-peer support roles in mental health as that’s where my interest was and where I thought I could help. Rania felt I had a lot of different skills to offer and encouraged me to try the programme.

I didn’t expect it to work so quickly!

I joined Volunteer to Career around September - October 2022. At the beginning of October 2022, I applied for a job and two weeks later, I was talking to the service manager for the whole of palliative care in Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. He wanted me to join in a management role, but I said “No, I’ve done that, I want to do clinical!” Next week I had another phone call with a lady in the Palliative Care clinical team and started working as a care assistant as part of their bank staff in January 2023. I also convinced my new manager to let me carry on with the Check in and Chat with just one patient. It might not always work out, but we decided to give it a go and see.

Supporting the clinical teams

The volunteer managers and clinical teams are amazing. I’ve had a lot of support and training from the clinical staff who were really welcoming and have helped me into my new role. Working with Check in and Chat made my whole experience so rewarding. They were so happy to have people helping out. They would send emails telling me how amazing I am and what a fantastic job I was doing. That meant a lot to me and helped rebuild my confidence.

This whole experience from volunteering to joining the volunteer to career programme has taught me things I didn’t know I could do. Active listening and trusting my own abilities have been the two major things I’ve learned.

Would you recommend the Volunteer to Career programme?

My experience has been great. It got me a job as a Care Assistant in the Palliative Care Team at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, kept me moving forward and opened my eyes up to the possibilities in volunteering. I would like to say a big thank you to the volunteering service at CNWL London for giving me a chance and showing me what I’m capable of.

You can learn more about the Volunteer to Career programme here.