Volunteers’ Week: “Everyone has something to offer.”

3 June 2024
Dementia Forward Wellbeing Cafe 1
Dementia Forward

In celebration of Volunteers’ Week, we caught up with Debby Lennox, head of community operations at Dementia Forward.

In this blog, Debby discusses her volunteering role at Dementia Forward’s Wellbeing Café and shares some of her monumental moments which surprised (and delighted!) her:

Nine years ago, I started working two days a week for Dementia Forward, recruiting and supporting volunteers. With a young family, this part-time role suited me perfectly, but also provided me with the luxury of some spare hours. Not one for either relaxing or doing the housework, I decided that, for just a few of those hours, I would offer myself as a volunteer to Dementia Forward’s Wellbeing Café.

If someone decided to analyse me, I am sure that I would come out as a ‘kinesthetic learner’, because I felt I couldn’t recruit people to a role without a proper understanding of what it entailed, and what, as a new recruit, I might find challenging. One of my first lessons came very early on, when a gentleman carer asked if I would sit with his wife, while he spoke to a support advisor. He led his wife to the table and steadied her as she sat on the chair next to me. He explained that she would find it difficult to talk to me, but that she loved ‘Connect 4’, so I set up a game.

Prior to playing I thought I was a dab hand at this game and felt I should take it easy on my opponent. However, as I quickly discovered, she was incredible at the game! So much so that when her husband re-joined us, I had my tail between my legs, and she had five wins under her belt!

This game was my fast-track course in treating everyone as an individual, getting to know their skills and maximising them, and learning that people are full of surprises. It wasn’t the only lesson I learned in my short time as a volunteer, but it is one that I hope has held me in good stead.

One of the most wonderful moments came a year or two later, when I recruited a volunteer with dementia. Tom had seen my advert for volunteers and approached me to see whether he was able to do the role as he had recently received his diagnosis. After a conversation about how we could support him and the need for open communication from both sides on how it was working, I whole-heartedly agreed. Afterall, we are encouraging other organisations to support and encourage people with dementia to volunteer, so how could we not offer this opportunity ourselves?

It was Tom’s first shift at the wellbeing café, and we had volunteers manning the kitchen, volunteers chatting and engaging people within the room, volunteers playing games and leading activities. Tom stood by the door, not yet sure of his role, until a new attendee arrived and tentatively poked his head round the door, before retreating. Tom noticed, opened the door and invited him in, with the words “Hello I’m Tom and I have dementia. What’s your name?”. The other man’s nervousness was completely gone, and the two men moved into the group, comfortably chatting.

These are just two examples of what every person I have met during my time at Dementia Forward has reiterated for me. Everyone has something to offer. Every interaction is valuable; every cake baked, bus driven, phone call made, song sung, smile offered, makes a difference. Volunteers enable an organisation to support people quickly and effectively and their value cannot be measured and should never be underestimated.

So, could that next volunteer be you? You might not think that your skills or experience would make you a great volunteer for a particular organisation. You might not really know what a role would involve, and may be nervous about asking. You might not think you fit the role that an organisation is promoting. But you might actually be just what they are looking for, they just haven’t met you yet.

To find out more about Dementia Forward’s volunteering roles across North Yorkshire, visit their website  or email debby.lennox@dementiaforward.org.uk. For further volunteering inspiration, roles and resources, head to our Volunteers’ Week 2024 page.

Happy Volunteers’ Week!