The difference a volunteer mentor can make

Ali is project co-ordinator for our Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine project, which supports veterans and their families in the often difficult transition to civilian life. Here she tells of the impact the project has had on one veteran and his volunteer mentor.

It’s a lovely summer day at Erskine Home in Renfrewshire, Scotland, and I’m sitting outside Harry’s café with Dougie, a veteran, and Cathy, his volunteer mentor. They have been meeting twice a month for nine months and with all the banter going around, it’s easy to tell they know each other well.

I first met Dougie when I dropped in at Gardening Leave, a charity which provided horticultural therapy for veterans, now Glen Art.  Dougie still attends horticultural activities based at the Erskine Home gardens twice a week where he has been going for seven years.

Having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been difficult for Dougie and horticulture at Erskine is his safe place. We all know how easy it is doing the same routine, but Dougie was in real need of a change. He needed that bit of extra support to enhance his confidence, self-esteem and reduce his anxiety.  As he says: “It’s hard to get out of your comfort zone.”

I introduced Dougie to Cathy, and with a good sense of humour, I knew she would be good to lift his spirits. “Cathy and I clicked. I can say anything I want and she listens. It is easy to talk to each other,” he says.

Dougie wanted to focus on goals for the days he wasn’t at Erskine. They first got to know each other by going for a coffee and a chat, going to different museums and setting a plan of action.

Driving his own car is fine for Dougie, but he is anxious about being in crowds and noise, which means using public transport can be an issue, as well as shopping at the local supermarket. This is where Cathy has been a great support as a mentor. With her help, Dougie has set goals to reduce feeling anxious. They will both go on the same train – sitting in different carriages so Dougie can call if in need of help.

They also go to the local supermarket with the aim of Dougie sourcing a few items, while Cathy stands outside. They’ve also built up the length of time spent shopping. Dougie says: “Goals were difficult at the start, however Cathy is good at pushing me; my confidence and self-esteem have improved and I can now go to shops on my own and not feel as anxious going to new places.”

Dougie is also enjoying finding new activities with Cathy, such as swimming and trail walking. “It works both ways,” says Cathy. “I’m surprised I enjoyed places I never thought would interest me. I see things from a different point of view and it’s been a lot more interesting than I expected.”

Goals have been going so well for Dougie that he has been able to move home, he’s gained skills in budgeting from the local money advice centre, and he is increasing his physical fitness and contacting old friends. He is also looking to get back into employment after Cathy told him about Employ-able, a project she had learned more about at a TimeBank Mentor Information day. Employ-able, funded by Poppyscotland and run by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, provides one-to-one support, workshops, training and advice to veterans in search of a job.“It’s important as a mentor that I signpost Dougie onto others types of support too,” says Cathy.

Dougie came along with me to speak at a focus group about the importance of asking for help and the way support from a mentor can help with the transition to 'Civvy Street'.  But it was his last comment that really got me. He said “You know, Cathy made me human again. We are going to stay friends.”

If you would like to find out more about Shoulder to Shoulder Erskine, call Ali on 07437 437 867, or email ali@timebank.org.uk. You can also find out more here.