Please be aware: this story does contain references to bereavement and is very emotional. Please consider your own mental wellbeing before reading. We’re sharing Graham’s story to celebrate his achievements whilst volunteering and the impact volunteering has on mental wellbeing.
Graham began volunteering at the BHF furniture and electrical store in Crewe in 2018, on his 61st birthday. He started volunteering after overcoming very difficult period in his life. Hear how volunteering has been “one of the best decisions I’ve made in a very long time.”
“My story starts in 2002 when I had to give up my job as a manager to become a full time carer for my parents. My father passed away on 29 May 2016. This took a great toll on my mother, as they had been married for 63 years. A year to the day of my father’s funeral, my mother died. This left me all alone. I kept myself busy for a few months, but after Christmas in 2017 my mental health started to deteriorate and, in April 2018, I had a nervous breakdown. This lead me to lose my home.
"I was now homeless and sleeping in my car. This did not help my mental condition and I reached the point where I felt that I could no longer go on.
"Luckily for me I was put on a scheme at the Y.M.C.A in Crewe and they gave me my own room. A friend of mine offered to buy me a new TV from the British Heart Foundation in Crewe. This is where I met Dev, the Assistant Manager, who encouraged me to volunteer. I have not looked back; I have made new friends and enjoy the support from my manager, Tracy.
"I can now enjoy life again. I have a paid position with the BHF and I enjoy taking part in activities and events at the Y.M.C.A and my local church.
"If you are feeling lost, or looking for a new direction in life, then I cannot urge you strongly enough to join the British Heart Foundation as a volunteer. You may end up like me with a paid position. Just remember: There is a future. Life may sometimes seem grim, but there is HOPE."
"My anxiety and depression controlled every part of my life, and I felt completely powerless. It took a long time and a lot of hard work to learn to understand and control my illness, but even when I felt like I could start to move on with my life, the problem was… where to start? I knew that going straight into paid work would be like jumping into the deep end.
"The BHF Bristol shop opened only a few minutes from where I live and I thought, “yeah, let’s give that a go.” I was really nervous and awkward about it but my Dad persuaded me to go to my induction and I’ve been here ever since.
"Now I do things every day that I could never have done a year ago - things I once thought I would never be able to do. I’ve volunteered at several different places, which were all good experiences, but the last few months at the BHF I can see how much I’ve grown.
"The really surprising thing is how much I enjoy all of the things that used to scare me! Answering phones, helping customers, even doing my best to help handle the occasional crisis, it makes me feel good about myself in a way that I haven’t really experienced before.
"After struggling so much to reach a point where I could start to push myself into being something more, volunteering was exactly what I needed to continue that process. Now it’s not a matter of if I’ll ever be able to do things - it’s when.”
If you need any support with your mental health or someone to talk to please visit the Mental Health Foundation's website. They have an array of different resources to help and support you.