Steven Moir has been volunteering for 13 years with Books on Wheels, buddied by his support worker Ian Woodward from Inclusion Alliance. Steven and Ian work as a team to deliver library books to elderly people who find it difficult to get out and about. Here Ian tells their story:
“Steven’s helping people that really can’t help themselves, which is terrific and that’s why the thumbs are always up on Books on Wheels. [The experience] has helped Steven realise he could develop his own personality within the community. He’s now more outgoing, more outspoken, more relaxed around people. He loves the company, he loves the banter. Volunteering means he can build relationships – build community relationships.
“Since starting volunteering, Steven’s become less subdued and more confident within himself. Volunteering with Books on Wheels really suits his nature. He likes to get out in the car, he likes to listen to music, he likes to read books. As time’s gone on he’s found he loves meeting people and vice versa. And he’s realised ‘I can really give something back to the community’.”
By volunteering with Books on Wheels, Steven and Ian help older people to maintain dignity and independence in their own homes and communities. Not only do customers gain access to library books, they also get a friendly visit from familiar faces every week. The pair have made many pals on their rounds, including one women who used to look after Steven years ago when he was in day-care.
“She used to help Steven on and off the bus,” explains Ian. “She thinks it’s absolutely fantastic how Steven has come on so well over the years and that he can now do something for her.
“Volunteering has given Steven the opportunity to go and grasp things – which was important to him – instead of just going to a day care centre all the time. He’s created choices, you know. He’s really grabbed [the chance to volunteer] by the throat as if to say ‘This is what I can do’.”
Ian buddies Steven every time he volunteers. Buddying is a skilled and challenging role where the support worker assists the volunteer but doesn’t do the task for them or take over the situation. It’s important that the volunteer gets to choose the volunteer role and takes ownership of the activity.
“It’s choice. It’s options. Steven’s option might not be my option because it’s not what’s good for me, it’s what’s good for Steven. That’s the bottom line of it and that’s how it works.
“My advice to other support workers is to remember that it’s not you and me – it’s together. Treat the person with respect the same as you would treat anyone else – your friends, your family or whatever. Me and Steven, we always discuss things, no matter what it is. We don’t ‘develop’ things just for the sake of it.
“We always consult. In that way, you’ll know for a fact whatever you choose, it’s not your choice, it’s the individual’s choice. If you don’t respect that, he’ll only say ‘Why am I here? I don’t want to do that’. Then everything goes out the window. If you’ve agreed on a situation and it doesn’t work out Steven isn’t going to give me dirty looks, saying ‘It was because you want to do it’.”
The role of buddying is to develop strengths in both the client and the support worker. To do this there needs to be a strong connection and commitment from both parties. It took Ian and Steven a whole year to get to the point where volunteering was working well for them but from then on their experience flourished.
“[A good buddying relationship needs] continuity and stability”, says Ian. “If that’s not there and you have [workers] that are coming and going all the time, you’re not going to understand each others’ personalities – you need to work off each other. I think the bottom line is that that connection is so important, you know? It’s so important. If you don’t have that connection, then it can go all wrong.
“You wouldn’t have that success story, you wouldn’t have that stability or continuity if someone else tried coming in. It just doesn’t work. On a one-to-one it’s an opportunity to create something which is really special.”