Kel has volunteered with Beat for the last 15 years. We caught up with her to reminisce over her volunteer experience and why she has been such a long standing supporter of Beat.
What have you been involved with as a volunteer?
When I started my role at Beat, I shared my lived experience through talks with different organisations and the media. As time progressed and the volunteer programme developed more, I got more involved in other areas.
My favourite thing I have been involved with is co-production where I can use this difficult experience to support with the production of something that will help people.
This makes the time feel more valuable when there is a product that will be used again and again. Seeing something that has been produced as a result of me sharing my experience and being able to say that I contributed to that has been really valuable. I have volunteered for other organisations and sometimes you feel like the token sad story. I have not felt like this volunteering with Beat, I have felt like an expert by experience.
Why did you want to volunteer with Beat?
When I was at the worst with my own eating disorder, I was not at a point that I felt capable or willing to access support. I did use the forums but did not use the helpline. My partner at the time called the helpline to get support . It was the helpline advisor that asked whether it was an option to use private therapy. It had not occurred to us as this was not the background we are from and then finding a private therapist was the beginning of my recovery. This interaction with Beat, gave me options and as I started to do better. This made me ask myself, if I am being told by professionals that I am not likely to achieve recovery and yet here I am achieving it, people need to hear this. You only hear about the sad cases – my life is very different now and I did get better.
What skills have you gained volunteering?
Confidence and opportunities to be in different environments were massive in my ongoing recovery.
When I first came to my first training day, I don’t believe I spoke at all for the entire day because it was quite overwhelming and didn’t know what to expect. It had rained on me before I arrived, so I was all wet and was given a towel and a cup of tea and sat in the corner and hid. It’s hard to imagine that that this was me because that is not how people would see me if I walked into a room today. I really think that confidence came from being a volunteer. I started to get to know others with lived experience who knew what may be challenging and I quicky became the outspoken volunteer and ‘Kel will do it’ was often said.
At the beginning of my volunteering, I went to a small Facebook conference with a staff member talking about social media impact on eating disorders. I thought it was terrifying and It was in a spall venue in London. Then fast forward a few years, I was in a huge auditorium at the Royal College of Nursing and nonchalantly walking across the stage. I thought I wouldn’t have faced those anxieties and feel comfortable in those settings unless I had volunteered.
One of my very first time volunteering was at a local college where I spoke to health and social care students about my lived experience and this led to me starting to train and work in the college. This happened because I was exposed to being in this environment. Following this opportunity, I ended up teaching for a few years and still use some of these skills in my work life now.
What support have you had from Beat as a volunteer?
I went along to volunteer training as part of my role. There was always someone there to talk to if I needed support. My experience has been that Beat staff have been very good at affirming what we have done as volunteers which contributes to your confidence. As my confidence has grown as a volunteer, I have needed less support and Beat has adapted to that.
Find out about opportunities to become a Beat volunteer