One of the things I love most about working in Kensington & Chelsea is the constant stream of examples of people looking out for each other – family and friends, but also neighbours, work mates and, in many cases, strangers. A couple of weeks ago a group from the Volunteer Centre went to see Grenfell: in the words of survivors at the National Theatre. I had no expectations of the play, but I found it really powerful. One of the reasons for that was the extreme contrast of the care shown by the residents of the Tower for each other with the lack of care shown by some of the witnesses at the public enquiry. The play reminded me that care, despite being unpaid or very poorly paid, is in many ways the bedrock of anything approaching a healthy society.
Working in a Volunteer Centre allows me to be in a caring environment most days. We often describe people who volunteer as offering their time and, while that makes sense, the thing that makes volunteering important isn’t the time spent, it’s the care given. Whether someone is answering a phone, making a green space bloom, or helping to keep a community group ticking, it’s not showing up that makes the difference, it’s caring about the people you do it with, and for, that improves the world, for those people and for the volunteer.
So, when I was reminded that World Suicide Prevention Day is just around the corner, on 10 September, I realised that it’s really the same thing – ordinary people caring for each other because it makes the world better for them and for all of us. The environment for our mental wellbeing is tougher than ever, so keeping an eye out for each other, and knowing that others are doing the same for us, is a really simple, practical way of improving things that’s in our own hands. Another practical thing to do is to help people see offering care as a way of improving their own wellbeing and connection with those around them – the Volunteer Centre will be here if that’s something they want to explore. You can also increase your confidence around people at risk and how to spot and support people in that situation via the Zero Suicide London campaign.
It’s a great thing to volunteer, but it’s even greater to care.
Michael Ashe, CEO