Over the past few weeks I have been on the road a fair bit catching up with a number of members. I love getting out to see them whenever possible, to meet the people who access their services as well as the staff teams. I had the pleasure of spending a few hours at William Blake House in Northants recently and one of the areas we spoke about was the positive impact their volunteers from overseas make. I asked Rob Bray, freelance for William Blake House to write a blog for us. Please read on below, it’s interesting stuff!

Lisa Lenton, ARC England Director

Valued Volunteers at William Blake House

William Blake House is a spiritually oriented community consisting of three registered care homes located within a few miles of each other in the South Northamptonshire countryside.  We provide person-centred support and residential care to people with learning disabilities, with the Anthroposophical principles of Rudolf Steiner at the heart of all we do.

Volunteers have always played a significant part in the provision of care at William Blake House.  For the most part, they come from overseas: we have welcomed many volunteers from South Korea, Columbia, and Germany in recent years.  Our volunteers usually spend approximately ten to twelve months with us, and they tend to arrive at roughly the same time, meaning that each year we have a different group of volunteers, all sharing the experience of being away from home – often for the first time – and working together as part of our vibrant and diverse community.  They live in nearby houses rented long-term by William Blake House specifically for the purpose of providing safe and comfortable accommodation for our volunteers.

Our volunteers receive the same training, support, and supervision as our paid care staff.  We have a strong culture at William Blake House of not differentiating between paid staff and volunteers (except where age and experience may be factors in the safety or legality of an aspect of their work).  The volunteers follow the same shift pattern as paid staff, and work the same hours.  This enables them to develop their caring relationships with the residents they work with, and to “learn the ropes” quickly, building their confidence and bringing forth their unique skills for the benefit of the whole community.

Naturally, our volunteers learn a lot about care work during their time with us, and they report other gains too.  They are mostly aged between 18 and 21 (although some are older), so spending a year in another country and working as a carer for the first time is a big step for them to take.  Of course, it’s not without its challenges, but we see them rise to those challenges every year.  We ensure that our volunteers have a many-layered support network around them right from the start, and that they always know how to get in touch with whomever they might wish to speak to about any aspect of their time with us.  Thanks to this, and to their commitment to finding out about who they are and where their strengths lie, many of our volunteers report significant personal developments during their time at William Blake House.

And we get a lot from them too!  Some of them have been educated in Steiner schools, so they bring their knowledge of Anthroposophical principles.  They also each have their unique skills, from the practical to the artistic.  Life at William Blake House is rich with creative activities so there’s always something to contribute in that area.  Most of all, though, they bring their personalities and their enthusiasm to everything we do, like sparkling tributaries inspiring and refreshing the ongoing flow of our organisation as we look ever forwards to how we can continue to provide the best possible care to our residents.

To find out more about volunteering at William Blake House, see  http://www.williamblakehouse.org