Meet The Team – Hugh Asher!
Thursday 20th August, 2020
I hope you have enjoyed reading our blog posts so far, and thanks to everyone for sharing them!
Today’s post is a little different, and is the first of our Meet The Team series. As a local organisation, we are comprised of a fairly small, close-knit team of hardworking staff and volunteers, and I thought it would be nice to feature some of them with a wee Q &A session, to give you all an idea of what we do behind the scenes to make a difference locally through the various projects we run. First up is Hugh Asher, our Volunteer Coordinator.
Hi Hugh! Can you tell me a bit about your background, and what you were doing before starting work with Ewen’s Room?
Hi everyone! I have worked in roles either providing help and support to people, or training other to do so, for almost twenty years. I starting this type of work as a drug worker in prisons in England and most recently I worked as a Project Manager for another charity delivering Learning Disability and Autism awareness to front-line staff in the Criminal Justice System across the UK. Mental health issues have been a common factor in the majority of people that I have worked with during this time.
How long have you worked with Ewen’s Room, and how did you first get involved?
I’ve worked for Ewen’s Room for just over three years now. I was just about to move up to Strontian and saw and advert in local De Tha Dol? saying that Ewen’s Room were looking for a Volunteer Co-ordinator and I applied.
When you aren’t working for Ewen’s Room, what do you get up to?
I live on a croft with my wife, Sarah, and we have six goats; four cows and three calves; about 30 sheep; and 45 chickens, as well as two dogs, a horse and a cat, so that keeps us busy. I’m really interested in the role that nature can play in promoting wellbeing and ‘green exercise’ and so I’m learning to be a ‘Forest Bathing’ guide, which involves encouraging people to spend time being mindful in nature. We are in the process of opening the croft as a ‘social croft’, a bit like a care farm, where people can experience the therapeutic benefits of working with the animals or engaging in conservation activities or nature-based craft activities.
Can you tell us about your role at Ewen’s Room?
My job mainly involves supporting the Telephone volunteers; creating and managing the rota for the helpline; supporting them when they answered calls; providing training and development for them; managing the PVG (disclosure) certificates for volunteers who need one; and promoting the service. Some of the training and development I deliver to volunteers we also offer to the general public, and similarly we have offered a wide range of online wellbeing development workshops during the last few months on topics such as resilience; building self-confidence; stress and anxiety management; coping with Covid-19; and Mental Health First Aid.
I’m also working on a crowdfunding project called Building Natural Capital, where we are hoping to raise £1250 to help young people in Lochaber get into the outdoors to improve their health and wellbeing. We only have a week to raise £350, so if you are able to help us please visit our crowdfunding page.
I currently work on the Helpline and Textline a few nights a week in a voluntary capacity too.
How many volunteers do you coordinate?
We currently have about 15 volunteers who answer calls and texts on the Helpline and Textline, or make calls to people on the EwenMe line.
We also run our weekly Open Doors sessions across the local area where people can meet for a chat, a cuppa and a slice of cake. These are run by the people who attend, and whilst most have been running longer than I’ve worked for Ewen’s Room and don’t need co-ordinating, they are important Ewen’s Room volunteers that we shouldn’t forget.
What is the best part of your role?
It struck me recently when a musician on the television said “At the start of the Coronavirus crisis I thought that I ought to do something to help”, that a lot of people have volunteered to help others as a consequence of the current situation, but that was what I had been doing for the last twenty years. So, feeling that I have made a difference to someone is a good part. The part that I enjoy most might be delivering training and wellbeing workshops. However, moving things online during the last few months has also had challenges in this area. It is much harder to develop rapport with workshop participants when it’s online, and it takes longer for participants to open up in front of each other.
What would you say is the biggest challenge?
I think that the hardest part is overcoming the stigma and perceptions that people have about opening up to someone else about their mental health. Lots of people tell us how important the helplines are, and how much need there is for them, but I don’t feel that this is necessarily reflected in the numbers of calls and texts that we receive. I’m sure that there are people who would benefit from these services, but are either unaware that they exist, or are uncertain about using them.
How busy are the helpline and EwenMe?
The EwenMe telephone line is something that we had discussed launching at Ewen’s Room for several years, and decided at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak that it was a good time. We managed to attract a good number of volunteers and have retained most of them as restrictions have lifted. I’m pleased to say that the number of people wanting calls and the number of volunteers we have has stayed about balanced, so each volunteer is responsible for calling one person once or twice each week.
The Helpline and Textline have always been a bit busier during the darker winter months than the summer months, and I think that this summer people who have experienced loneliness and social isolation for longer than the current coronavirus crisis have had a wider range of support options, and this has reduced the number of calls that we have received, but in many ways, in a good way.
Do you get a mix of people using the helpline?
Yes, we receive calls from both males and females, from people of all ages (although the people who text us tend to be a little younger on average!), from people who are single, married, bereaved. We don’t really have a ‘normal’ caller.
What would you say to someone that’s nervous to call the helpline?
It’s understandable to be a bit nervous. People often think that their problems are too small, but nothing is ever too small an issue, if it matters to you it matters to us. Some people worry about or feel uncomfortable talking about the problems that they are experiencing, but all our volunteers answer and make calls because they want to help others. Many of our volunteers have experienced anxiety, depression, stress, bereavement or mental health problems, and so can understand a bit where you’re coming from.
What difference could calling the helpline make to someone?
Helplines such as ours are low threshold services that you can call yourself without a referral and you can get support without having to wait long or to travel. You can call our helpline for free, so it doesn’t cost anything, and you can call when you want, which can help you to feel more in control of what’s happening.
The main thing is we can offer the opportunity to talk to someone who will listen to you without judgement. We may not be able to give you advice on how to solve your problems, but we can listen, help you to think through possible solutions yourself and possible signpost you services that might be suitable for you. The best analogy I have heard, is that it’s like standing in a launderette with someone. Their ‘washing’ is whatever is bothering them – we won’t tell them how to wash their clothes, but we will stand with them in front of the tumble dryer and help them to fold their clothes and sort them into more organised piles.
And how about EwenMe?
The main difference with the EwenMe telephone line, where one of our volunteers arranges to call you regularly at a mutually convenient times, is that you only need to contact us once, and you can do this over the website if you prefer. Many people feel more comfortable being called than making the call and sometimes people just want a social conversation and (wrongly) feel that calling our helpline isn’t appropriate.
What kind of things can people call the helpline to talk about?
Anything that is on their mind really. However, common reasons why people call the helpline include:
- feeling overwhelmed
- family or friendship problems
- feeling lonely or socially isolated
- feeling unsafe (thoughts of suicide or self-harm)
- mental health concerns
- they just want a chat with someone
Our helpline and textline are here for you if you’d like to chat to someone. They are open from 5 pm to 10 pm Monday to Friday, and 12 pm to 10 pm Saturday and Sunday
The helpline number is 0800 689 3317
The textline number is 07537 431637
If you are interested in our ‘EwenMe’ line, where a volunteer will call you at a time and on a day that suits, please call 01967 750845 for further information!
As always, please share this post to help us raise awareness!
Have a lovely weekend everyone,
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The Building Natural Capital Project
The Building Natural Capital Project is a collaboration between Ewen’s Room and the Buzz Project.
Six-sessions to empower individuals and our community to be there for each other through Covid-19 and beyond.