David: I’m David Stopforth and I’m a volunteer mentor. I started this role just over two years ago – so that would be March 2020.
‘How did you find out about Children Heard and Seen (CHAS)?’
D: I’d recently retired and did a bit of research, looking around to see what things I could pursue that were of interest to me. Someone mentioned to me an organisation called Reading Volunteer Action, so I called them and arranged to have a meeting, and met a guy there. We spent about an hour and a half together talking through various volunteering opportunities that they had on their books. He sent me about seven ideas for volunteering, and links with more information on each of them, one of which of course was CHAS. Given it related to a little bit of my childhood experiences, and just feeling that it was just a wonderful organization doing fabulous things, I thought I’d give it a try.
‘What do you think are the benefits to the child you support?’
D: I would hope the benefits for Thomas are that he feels an increased sense of security. Because between us we’ve got this little relationship growing – it’s another adult outside of the family circle that he can relate to. Each time we have contact we pick up usually on where we left off last time, so there’s a feeling of continuity there and I just hope that he feels an added level of security in the world because he and I have a chat now again.
‘What do you get out of volunteering?’
D: It utilises some of what I think are my own skills in relationships with others. It feels as if I’m giving something back from what I learned through the course of my own personal life, but also through the course of my career as well. I feel I’m still using some of those skills that I’ve previously used in the workplace. Also, there are some parallels with the circumstances of all children that CHAS are supporting. There are some personal parallels with my own experiences as a child. I didn’t have parents in prison, but I lost my mum who died when I was six years old and so I’ve always felt that there are some parallels there. To be able to hopefully assist the child to deal with those things in some small way, actually feels quite good.
‘What is your favourite memory as a mentor?’
D: My favorite memory was when there was no option bar Zoom calls during lockdown, we decided to do some drawings for each other on Zoom. I like drawing, Thomas likes drawing. At the end of the call he said ‘David can I have your drawing?’ and I said yeah so I dropped it off on the doorstep. The time I saw Thomas after that, he had coloured in my drawing and showed it to me on Zoom. That was just the most fantastic feeling.
‘Do you feel supported by CHAS?’
D: Yeah, always. There’s a terrific spirit that goes right through all of the CHAS team, inspired by Sarah and others I’m sure. I think the momentum that CHAS is building through its partnerships with others is making it such a powerful force. It’s nice to be associated with it
‘What would you say to someone who’s thinking of becoming a mentor?’
D: I would say if you’ve thought about it, if you’re ready to make a commitment, you’re ready to keep an open mind and keep exploring the relationship with the child, then you should definitely give it a go. The reason I say that is, yes at the beginning it is a challenge to get to know anybody, but these are special people that you’re working with as a mentor. You can contribute to their lives and their future lives by just being a trusted friend with them. You can help them in whichever way the relationship goes and the conversations you have with them. Ultimately, the rewards that you get back from that experience are just very valuable.