8 June 2016
A couple of years ago the simple act of getting out of bed and having a shower was enough to leave Holly Watson completely exhausted. The ambitious 22-year-old, from Wellow, in Somerset, experienced a major setback in life when she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, forcing her to abandon her A-level studies. But now well on the road to recovery her dreams are coming back into focus, with the help of the confidence boost she has received from being a volunteer for the British Red Cross.
Holly is telling her story this Volunteers’ Week (1-12 June) with the hope of inspiring others in Bath and North East Somerset to step forward and become Red Cross volunteers, with a service that helps older people to take back control of their lives after a crisis.
And getting through a crisis is something Holly knows all about. At the worst point in her illness she was exhausted and sleeping for 22 hours a day. She missed her exams and had to put her hopes of going to university and becoming a chiropractor or osteopath on hold. Gradually her health improved and she learned to manage her condition. She started working in customer services but wasn’t satisfied so she started volunteering. “I was doing a job that wasn’t completely fulfilling and I’d spent the last four years in limbo, because of my health,” says Holly, “I had some spare time and wanted to do something productive so I started volunteering with the Red Cross.”
Holly signed up as a Red Cross support at home volunteer and, for the past year, has given two or three hours a week to help older people in Bath and North East Somerset after a crisis or when facing isolation because they live in a rural area. The service, which is funded by Land Rover, provides up to six weeks of support during which volunteers help people reconnect with their community and regain their confidence, dignity and independence - feeling more able to face the future.
Holly has supported several people now and loves making a difference to people’s lives in a way that is completely tailored to them and what makes them feel good. She says: “It’s been brilliant. I really enjoy it. The service users I’ve visited have been lovely and I enjoy listening to their stories. I’ve done everything from helping people to go shopping to helping them do puzzles, and I’ve even done a spot of baking – helping one lady to make her Christmas cake.
“We use a ‘top three goals’ approach working with people to identify goals they want to achieve. For some people it might be to play a game of cards each week. Others feel isolated so their goal may be to catch a bus to the library. For them this might present a huge obstacle especially if they’ve spent life with a partner and they’ve recently been bereaved.
“You hope that, in that window of support you give, you help someone to build up their confidence and feel like themselves again.”
The Red Cross wants to recruit more volunteers like Holly. Volunteers receive lots of support including an introductory three-day training course teaching them about the values of the Red Cross and useful skills for life like providing emotional support to people in crisis. And, as Holly proves, the confidence-boost works both ways: “For me, after my health problems, the experience of getting out and meeting new people and even just really simple things like driving places I’ve not been to before, were really valuable. I don’t think there’s anyone who just breezes through life. There’s always something behind the door and I think the fact I can relate to the frustration and angst people might be feeling comes through in the support I offer.”
The experience of volunteering has also cemented Holly’s resolve to continue her education and become an osteopath and she starts a degree course in London in September.
The programme in B&NES is funded by a national partnership which sees Land Rover UK providing £2 million worth of support to 11 Red Cross projects in rural locations.
If you live in the Bath and North East Somerset area and want to find out about volunteering call Liz Folkes on 0117 301 2604 or email: WAGP&L@redcross.org.uk
For more information about the Red Cross visit redcross.org.uk
Notes to editors
Please find attached photographs of Holly Watson. Please credit Rebecca Gilbert/British Red Cross. For more information or to arrange interviews call Rebecca on 07525128297 RGilbert@redcross.org.uk or 0117 301 2624.
The programme in B&NES is part of a national partnership which sees Land Rover UK providing £2 million worth of support to 11 Red Cross projects in rural locations. The company continues its long-term vehicle loan scheme to the British Red Cross during times of severe weather. During the winter floods last year Land Rover loaned 4x4 vehicles to local Red Cross emergency response workers so they could reach many cut-off communities to deliver aid and rescue those at risk.
The UK partnership is part of an award-winning £15 million global initiative between the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Land Rover, ‘Reaching Vulnerable People Around the World’. Red Cross national societies and local Land Rover markets are working together to deliver essential community projects in countries including Austria, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and South Sudan.
The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives. www.redcross.org.uk