Jackie has been chosen to receive a Child Bereavement UK Champion in recognition of her 10 years of outstanding volunteering for Child Bereavement UK, from moderating the online Family Forum, greeting families attending bereavement support sessions, supporting children and young people attending group activities and being a friendly face at a variety of Fundraising and Training events.
“I first came to Child Bereavement UK in May 10 years ago, having seen an advert in a local magazine in West Wycombe. There was an Open Morning at their offices which I attended with a view to giving them a morning or two a week doing administration work in any area where I was needed. It fitted in around my week and I could do as little or as much as I wanted; there is a certain amount of freedom to being a volunteer, and a balance was made that fitted in well with me and my life outside the charity.
As time went on I was asked if I would sit alongside the Bereavement Support Team and help with compiling detailed lists of Accident and Emergency Units throughout England and Wales. Funding had been provided for us with the aim of sending out Information Packs to hospitals about the charity and detailing how we could help support bereaved parents and children. I would add there was an element of apprehension about being in a room where the phone calls being taken were from either professionals seeking advice, or from parents wanting support after the death of a baby or child, but nevertheless it was both interesting and rewarding at the same time.
I remained in the Bereavement Support Team office, and as I became a little more confident I offered to help out with the Family Forum, an online message board within the website. Members log in with a username and can share their experiences and connect with others who have been bereaved. Being able to recognise and acknowledge how they feel within the privacy of the forum is of real value to the parents who frequent the forum. I took over as Moderator and oversee the site seven days a week. I only take time off to go on holiday! My role here can include signposting our services to new members, linking them to relevant information within the website or offering phone support. Safety of all our members is really important, and I have to keep that in mind while reading the messages. The forum is private and self-supporting so I’m just an anonymous person in the background. It can prove difficult to read at times, and sometimes I do feel helpless, but I do get support from the team whenever I need it. It’s been very rewarding though – it’s comforting to see how parents come together within an online community, a place where they can say whatever they need to, and no-one will judge or react with anything other than kindness and compassion; and we have parents from all over the UK supporting one another with very little need for intervention by any of us, professional or otherwise, who can never fully understand the grief of losing a child unless we have experienced it.
As time has progressed I have moved into the other side of the charity as well. I asked if I could be accepted on Child Bereavement UK’s Modular Course ‘Working with Bereaved Children and Young People’ so I could get more involved in the charity’s work. I was lucky enough to be granted a bursary place, and I joined a group of 11 other professionals on a course that included reflective journals, written and practical assignments, the use of creative interventions and so much more, probably one of the most interesting courses I have ever done and I learned so much! I haven’t written an essay since I left school so that was a challenge! But now I’m professionally qualified and I have volunteered in several Children and Young Peoples Service [CHYPS] Saturday morning sessions in the last year or two, and I have also really enjoyed helping out on Thursday evenings with the Young People’s Advisory Group [YPAG] as a facilitator. However, you do not have to go on the intensive course to volunteer in either group; if you are interested in working with bereaved children you will be fully trained – and you don’t need to have worked within a bereavement or children’s service; you just need to be fully on board and able to give the time. Two ears and a smiling face is always a good start!
For the past two and half years I have worked in West London. At the moment I travel to Ruislip every first and third Tuesday of each month, where we have a suite of rooms for bereavement support for parents. Working alongside two members of the bereavement support team, I’m the receptionist who ‘meets and greets’ parents, making tea, coffee and helping them feel comfortable. I also ‘meet and greet’ parents at Saunderton when they come along for the monthly Child Loss Groups; that involves setting out the room, and again, being the face of hospitality. It really takes very little of my time; I’m simply a familiar face that they chat to when they first arrive.
I also get involved with conferences a couple of times a year, manning the Support and Information and Resources stand at various events. I really enjoy meeting and chatting with professionals who attend; they really want to give their very best to support families and it’s always so nice to feel how much enthusiasm they have for the work they do. I am able to talk to them about the support we offer, and that’s often when I realise just how much I’ve learned being part of the charity. The conferences are so informative and reach so many people, not only within bereavement services but in schools as well. I also help out at several Fundraising events including the Onesie Walk, the Snowdrop Walk and the Memorial Planting Days. I like being out where the bulb planting takes place, as it’s nice to welcome some of the families while outside of the organisation.
In 2013 CBUK nominated me for the national Charity Staff and Volunteer Awards and I was shortlisted as one of three finalists, which was a real surprise, and I was asked to an award ceremony in London which was nice to be part of, although nerve wracking. I have always felt looked after by all the staff at CBUK, they place importance on what I and other volunteers do. I am not a member of staff, but I am a member of the team. In return I’m rewarded in so many ways; I was invited along to the Queen’s Jubilee Concert in 2012, and I’ve met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge… Oh and I’ve had a picture taken with Joey Essex at the Onesie Walk last year!
It’s a real honour to have been nominated for CBUK’s 21 Champions. When I responded to the volunteer advert 10 years ago I had no idea I’d be involved in so much – I thought I was just going to help out with a bit of admin and the small tasks that no-one quite has time to do. I never imagined I’d work within Bereavement Services, but there was no need to be as wary or apprehensive as I first thought. The charity is such a nice place to be. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t witness the difference an organisation like this makes. In these past ten years I have seen a real growth in the charity and it continues to reach areas that have few resources for bereaved families.
I would say to anyone who is thinking of volunteering – just come in and say hello. Offer your time, your expertise, and if you don’t enjoy it, you don’t have to carry on! Perhaps some people don’t volunteer for us because they think they might encounter something that’s uncomfortable for them, but you can get involved in as much or as little as you like, not just in Bereavement Services but in Training or Fundraising and at events too.
I am thought about, included and valued. I have never thought about whether my volunteering for Child Bereavement UK might come to an end – I’m involved in far too many things right now!”