In 2010 I had been thinking about a steady volunteering role for a while; I’d done bits and pieces, soup runs and homeless at Christmas schemes, but felt that a regular appointment would be something that could make a tangible difference. Setting up standing orders for charities was good but I was beginning to think that the most valuable commodity I could give was time.
It was with this in mind that I found myself at work listening to the radio while watering hundreds of potted plants, an activity that lends itself to hours of radio. There was an interview with Camila Batmanghelidjh from Kid’s Club in London, a groundbreaking organisation in its day. She was talking about their befriending scheme, adult volunteers taking out young people so they can have an adult friend who is removed from their usual world; she explained how the young people developed confidence, skills and friendships as a result. I found her passion and eloquence inspiring and so, that evening, after a quick search I discovered a similar scheme existed in Bristol, at the time it was called Allies and now is known as Reconstruct. I signed up.
The first step was training, so over a number of evenings we were told about young people in care and how they’d been let down by every adult in their lives; parents, social workers who removed them from their families, lawyers and police have all impacted on their lives. Our role was to be a different, non-professional adult in their lives, a friend.
When the training was finished we were all matched up with a young person who was given the option of an independent visitor and had decided they would like to see someone regularly. I was matched with an eight year old boy who had been in care for two years, we shared a love of football. My volunteer coordinator took me for an initial meeting before we could start seeing each other regularly; we talked about football and wrestling and after a little while he turned to his foster carers and said ‘when can I start seeing Andy?’, and his approval was granted!
It is now nine years later, he is seventeen and we still see each other regularly. We have done so much together; we saw Great Britain play football in the Olympics, we’ve raced each other at go carting, watched stock car racing, seen countless films which have gone from Wreck it Ralph to Fast and Furious, won a giant Toblerone in an arcade, bowled at hundreds of pins, shot pool, shot each other in Laser Quest, gone for walks, gone to Weston, eaten a large variety of take way food, and, of course, kicked a football many many times.
In that time he’s had his ups and downs, uncertainty and knockbacks, but the independent visitor scheme has given him a solidity that hasn’t always been present in other areas of his life. An independent visitor doesn’t have important one on one meetings to check his progress, or assess him with a clipboard, or talk about him and his life in a court in front of other adults who don’t know him. We have been over the last nine years and still are part of each other’s routine; we still kick a ball around, grab a subway and play our own premiership score and scorer predictor game with its own points system like we always have done.
If you’re looking to make a difference, giving up time and making a commitment to a young person through Reconstruct would be a good place to start.