Lucy Dalley’s volunteering story

Posted by Devon Partnership Trust in News on 1st June, 2022

For Volunteers’ Week, we spoke to Lucy Dalley, a Peer Support Worker at the West of England Specialist Gender Identity Clinic, based at the Laurels in Exeter. She told us how she went from volunteer to career.

“In 2015 I started volunteering at the Laurels Gender Identity Clinic as a Volunteer Advisor. I had no real ambitions as a volunteer other than to support others undertaking that process. I knew I could use my lived experiences to help patients in a different way than other clinical staff could. In those early days, my role was simply to sit in our very busy waiting room and speak to people. I was a full-time carer for my wife and I enjoyed the way volunteering gave me some time-out from my caring role.

I came from a very manual labour background and I have years of working in the engineering and the timber industries. This is all linked to my male past and to some degree are no part of who I am now. Essentially, I finished my transitioning and found myself with a redundant career. I had some skills I acquired whilst I volunteered at Samaritans in the past and it was these that I used when working with people at the Laurels. By working with other members of the team, I also found an interest in counselling and thought that I might follow that path as a career. I did do a Certificate in Counselling course but felt it wasn’t for me after I completed it. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t enjoy it because I really did. I felt that it might change me and I had literally just discovered myself. My idea of embarking on the Advance Diploma evaporated.

In recent years I redeveloped my volunteering role based on what was useful for our patients. Our waiting room had become quieter over the years because of service development. It is sad because we were always proud of our vibrant and bustling waiting room. It was a place where patients could feel safe and connect to other with similar lived experiences. Times were changing though and I needed to adapt.

My role became closer to that of a Peer Support Worker. I specialised to some degree and started to define areas in which I could help our patients. I was also asked to help provide some training for our team based on my lived experience. This was a phenomenally useful experience and encouraged me to think about my career path again. I enjoyed teaching and this linked in with another passion I had discovered after transitioning, Yoga. I approached my teacher and she agreed to take me on as a trainee teacher. My idea was that when I qualified, I could offer Yoga to our patients in a safe space. The training was a huge commitment; at least three years and a lot of hard work. This was in January 2020.

Then COVID happened and everything changed. My Yoga training having literally just started, became a whole different challenge. Volunteering was the same. We were stood down as volunteers initially, a decision I was never happy with but I still managed to help out. We had new members of our team starting and from home, I worked with them on my own laptop and ran them through some training to help them get going. I did however wonder whether I was actually going to return as a volunteer. I had my Yoga and perhaps this was signalling the end of my volunteering.

Then a member of our team emailed me in May 2020 and asked when I was coming back. They actually said “It would be good to see you back on gender and off the yoga!” It made me think about how I had become a bit obsessed with one thing in my life. I think it was easy for anyone to fall into that trap during that first lockdown but it did shake me out of it and a couple of weeks later, I returned to working. I quickly became aware that our patients now had very different needs and although everyone had challenges during those times, our patients had unique ones.

COVID change our service completely. We faced some significant challenges as a team and it was hard going at times. We were all dealing with the impact of COVID on a personal level as well as trying to provide a service to our patients. As a team, we became much closer and supportive to each other. I was very aware of staff wellbeing and offered a weekly “Mindful Breathing” session on MS Teams. This brought my Yoga teaching to the team and gave opportunity for people to take 30 minutes out and find some quietude.

Last summer, I sat back and took stock of what I was doing. I found myself volunteering more than 20 hours a week and I felt I could do more. We have also moved to a hybrid and flexible way of working and this could fit in with my teacher training and my other role as carer for my wife. I went to my Line Manager and said that I’d like to take my role and make it a full time job. We both agreed that this would be a positive step for our service, as well as for me, and she started to make it happen. It still took a while but at the beginning of March, I donned my suit and had my interview at the Laurels. I’ve not had an interview in 9 years but I still managed to get the job!

My 7 years of volunteering were my preparation for this role. Whilst I asked for the role to be created, it has actually been on the cards for a few years. The idea of a Peer Support Worker was first suggested over 5 years ago. Without the preparation of being a volunteer, I doubt I would have secured the job. I have built many relationships with the rest of the team and they gave me a great deal of help whilst I was preparing for the interview. Whilst this did not guarantee me the job, it helped me be ready for the questions at the interview. Another aspect of the volunteering is that it has given me an understanding of what is required and most importantly, that I want to do the job itself. Work for me in the past has meant earning money and not really much more. Now I have a job that I really want to do which makes a huge difference.

I have been in post for a couple of months now and it is very different. One plus is that I can offer a broader service to our patients and instead of only one day a week that they can speak to me, they have the huge choice of five! A negative is all the emails I now get! It’s like someone flipping a switch; “you’re full time now so have ten times as many emails!” I’m now allowed to teach Yoga on a training basis and twice a week some team members offer themselves as willing victims whilst I practice my skills. The future looks really promising and I already have a plan for how I want to progress in our service and the NHS, that also includes my Yoga when I qualify. Volunteering at the Laurels was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”