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The Maudsley Blog

A Volunteers Journey with Karen Ashby

Karen Ashby

Volunteers support and enhance our services at South London and Maudsley. We are supported by about 400 volunteers every year. Karen is a Physical Health Peer Support Worker at the Trust. In this blog she shares how she started her role as a Volunteer and became a full-time employee.

My journey through different roles in volunteering to being offered a full-time role as Physical Health Peer Support Worker at South London and Maudsley all began from having PTSD, anxiety and depression for many years. This was due to being in the Bishopsgate bomb blast in 1993, which not only blew up the financial city of London but blew my world apart, changing my life in a way I never expected when I went to work that day as Signal Woman at Bank station.

A few years later after therapy, I returned to work in administration for South West Trains, and then had a career change to the BBC where I was unfortunate to witness the aftermath of the Aldwych bus bomb on my way to work, which re-triggered my PTSD.

After time, therapy and determination I first met Isobel Mdudu, Volunteer Services Manager at the Trust through New Horizons in 2010. This is where I set up Moose Mail my not-for-profit social enterprise that delivers leaflets, letters and small parcels and promotes that physical activity of delivering on foot and pedal power is great for mental wellness. Profits are donated back into mental health organisations such as Prostate Cancer, Mind, Papyrus prevention of young suicide and St Mungos.

I also started to engage in volunteering at South London and Maudsley, where my first volunteering role was at Bethlem, where I helped the professional staff on a ward with gardening sessions for the patients. This was therapeutic for them as we went from preparing the ground, planting the seeds, to watching them grow and bloom. It gave patients the benefit of access to being outside in the fresh air. I started to build my confidence up by realising I could help others interacting with them, and by giving a little of my time it felt good being able to help.

I then went onto helping at The Walled Garden with similar duties and even appeared on a tv programme for the BBC that was filmed about the benefits of gardening and mental wellness.

Volunteering was making a positive impact on me and I moved into an indoor administration role for the Volunteering Department, where I currently still volunteer. I managed the Telephone Befriending log throughout Covid, and the Community Befriender database, and continue with requesting Volunteer references and updating the records.

I have also volunteered on a ward at the Maudsley, taking minutes at the Community Meeting where patients had the chance to air their views on what was good and bad on the ward. I assisted with pampering sessions where patients on the ward were able to have a foot spa, paint their nails, face masks etc. – this was great for their mental wellness.

One of my more recent roles was for the PEDIC manager where I would input information from surveys completed by patients and carers onto the PEDIC database, flagging up any concerns.

Another role I currently do is for Physical Health in Lewisham, where I have been learning to help with physical health checks for service users, which is so important in maintaining good physical health.

I would not have been able to apply for the position of Peer Support Worker, had I not gone on my journey and followed the road to recovery by volunteering at an organisation that supports mental health. Having the lived experience, empathy and understanding, will enable me to help bridge the gap between the service user and clinical staff from a service users point of view.

I would like to help make a difference to someone’s life by encouraging them to take that step into volunteer. Everyone is different and has their own pace and level in what they are happy with, and allowing for any setbacks that might happen, that if you keep persevering and have self-determination, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

If you are interested in volunteering, please email Isobel Mdudu via  isobel.mdudu@slam.nhs.uk  or call 020 3228 3978.

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