Volunteers Week

4th June 2024

Interview with Kirsty

What is your role as a volunteer?

Volunteer at both Phoenix Futures and Phoenix families. In the family service I peer mentor and help with wellbeing calls but I have also created a six week programme about getting to know ourselves and coping skills for family members of those who struggle with addiction. At Phoenix Futures I peer mentor and help in the office when needed. I also help to facilitate the Recovery café at a prison with a colleague. I create a structure for the group at the Recovery Café and try to include coping skills, crafts, shares and some physical activities when possible.                                                   

How did you get into volunteering with Phoenix?

I accessed Phoenix in August 2022, when I realised I was at breaking point with my dad’s alcoholism. I had watched the documentary “Vicky Pattison: My Dad, Alcohol and Me” and found so many similarities in our situations, but was surprised to see her attending groups which helped family members of those with addiction issues. I didn’t know there was such a thing, so decided to find a service close to me and give it a try, I had nothing to lose at this point. I started attending groups and got 1-1’s with the amazing Kristen (family service manager). Kristen gave me somewhere to vent, helped me with my relationship with my dad and helped build back up my confidence and self-esteem. After suggesting some activities for the group Kristen asked if I would be interested in peer mentoring and helping out with some things in the office. I was then asked if I would like to help out at the Recovery Café, knowing that I had a degree in criminology and criminal justice. I saw so much potential in the Recovery Café and was allowed to get creative with activities that we could do there.

Does your role as a volunteer support you personally, and how?

I suffer with some chronic health conditions and volunteering has really helped my mental health after having to give up work. Volunteering has given me a purpose and I have been able to develop new skills and a deeper understanding in the services available and addiction as a whole. It allows me to get out the house when I’m able but I can still do some prep work at home if I am up to it. It has improved my self-confidence and self-esteem and I feel so appreciated by my colleagues and those who access the service, it really is a lovely environment to be in. Volunteering with Phoenix has allowed me to meet so many new people, that I wouldn’t have met before and I genuinely can call my colleagues my friends.

What are the biggest barriers you see in the people you support facing?

With my own experience of not knowing that family services existed, there definitely needs to be a push to make their presence more known in communities and how to access them. They are an under-utilised resource and can be truly life changing. 

There are failings in the justice system both in and out of prison for people with addiction struggles. When coming out of prison people are faced with issues with work, housing, finances and other personal issues and systems are not in place to give people the best start when leaving prison.

There is not enough mental health and trauma support. The fact that mental health services and addiction services do not work together is baffling to me, when it is clear they are so intrinsically linked. This adds to the issues with the “clear pathways” or “no closed door” approach, which is something that is not apparent at the moment. People are asking for help with addiction and mental health from a service, then being sent elsewhere just for that service to send them somewhere else and so on. This is all while people are having to retell their stories over and over again which is retraumatising for them. When people seek help for addiction they need to be helped at that very moment, not passed from pillar to post.

Stigma is another big issue. The judgement people face is awful and this isn’t just from the public but family, friends and professional services and I think that’s why the non-judgemental approach that Phoenix has is so important. Having workers with lived experience adds to a non-judgemental atmosphere when working with service users.

Recovery needs more money put in to it from the Government, it is no secret that Scotland has severe issues with alcohol and drug use and with the waiting lists for access to mental health resources, along with other fundamental services, that will only continue. 

Do you have a memorable moment from your time volunteering?

My most memorable moment when volunteering was my first visit up to the Recovery Café in the prison. I introduced myself and told my story, asked the guys about themselves and what they would like the group to include and we had a good chat. At the end of the day, a few of the group members came up to me, shook my hand and thanked me for my time. It genuinely touched me how appreciative the guys were that someone wants to help them who isn’t getting paid and who just genuinely wants to be there.