Volunteering a perfect prescription for Marselle

Published Tuesday 8 March 2016 at 10:55

There was a time when Marselle Davies was in a women’s refuge, struggling with drug addiction and mental health issues. She had suffered abuse and had tried to take her own life.

Last year she stood up in front of a room of business executives to give a presentation, hoping to persuade them to support her volunteer work. She succeeded, and in doing so showed how two programmes in Blackburn with Darwen are also achieving remarkable success.

Volunteering on Prescription and Fast 4wd are run by Community CVS, helping people turn their lives around through helping others. The former engages people with mild to moderate mental health conditions, the latter involves people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and volunteers from the wider community.

They are supported to become volunteers in areas that interest them, then pass on their advice and experience to people who may be going through the tough situations they themselves have overcome.

Marselle, 48, who started volunteering through Fast 4wd, explained:

I suffered with amphetamine addiction between the ages of 25 and 30, suffered manic depression and mental health issues and made a suicide attempt.

At the age of the 30 I was in a women’s refuge for seven months, and it was then I asked, ‘what can I do with my life?’. I did a law degree at university and worked at a solicitors firm. I wanted to do something that made me happy, so I came to Community CVS and found I had a knack for helping people. Volunteering has given me my life back; made me feel worthwhile. I didn’t feel like such a screw-up.

Kate Lee, deputy chief executive of Community CVS (formerly Blackburn with Darwen CVS), said:

People who want to get involved are those who have been the recipients of care at one stage in their lives. By offering them this support, not only can they save services a lot of money and avoid having to take medication, they are also adding value to their community.

There is so much talk about people’s limitations and problems, but there is a lot of potential out there and they just need support and time to allow them to flourish and help the communities they live in to flourish.

Both programmes are funded through Public Health at Blackburn with Darwen Council, and Volunteering on Prescription has also received money from the Department of Health, Volunteering Fund for Health and Social Care –  as one of 35 innovative schemes chosen nationally.

Figures for 2015 show that 92 people across the two programmes received training and 179 were engaged by the service.

A total of 18,935 of volunteer hours were generated by the social prescribing projects, which in monetary terms meant that £70,000 of funding created £187,935 worth of volunteer work.

These hours have been supporting grassroots community support initiatives including volunteer-led community groups, community libraries, VOICE Breakfast and family Club, social inclusion football, Café Hub ( recovery café in Darwen), canal/ community clean ups, Blackburn Food Bank as well as larger charities including Lancashire Women’s Centre, Care Network, Age UK, and East Lancashire Hospice, among others.

There have also been new community support groups developed. Marselle is the driving force behind the family club at the Boulevard Centre, which she set up through the VOICE substance misuse service user network because she felt there was “nothing that was dealing with the family unit.”

And that’s why she found herself in front of a room of John Lewis executives, asking for them to make it their sponsored charity. She said:

I’ve never done a speech in my life before and I was a bag of nerves – I barely slept the week before and on the day I was sweating I was so terrified. But I was chosen, and they said the reason was because of my passion.

Research by the Harvard School of Public Health supports the anecdotal evidence collected by Community CVS. As part of a study of over 7,000 over-50s, the American medical establishment found that people who volunteer spend 38 per cent less time in hospital.

The future looks bright for these two programmes and Kate Lee is confident of their continued success.

She added:

Our schemes are working to create a ‘win win win’ scenario; benefiting residents by making them healthier and happier, benefiting our health and social care providers by reducing the demands on their services, and benefiting the social economy by helping to generate an additional volunteer workforce that will be able to sustain positive activities within our communities.

It is a virtuous cycle and we are now seeing the evidence emerging of positive outcomes for individuals, public services, community groups and the community as a whole.

And Marselle added:

The experiences I’ve had mean that people are more accepting of me. When they are struggling with things, I can tell them I’ve been there and they know that I have.

Councillor Mustafa Desai, Executive Member for Health and Adult Social Care, said:

Community CVS, the organisation that  delivers Fast 4wd, Volunteering on Prescription and other community support initiatives is amongst our most valued local partners and I’m absolutely delighted to see the volunteering on prescription scheme being such a success. Marselle is a credit to her organisation and I can’t thank her more for all her hard work. It’s so heart-warming to see examples like this where people have been able to turn their lives around and use their experiences to help others in need.

Dominic Harrison, Director of Public Health, said:

A key challenge to us in the public sector is to learn from this excellent work by Community CVS how to enable the community to help solve its problems with our support – rather than to be passive receivers of services provided by others.  All of us want to contribute to the good of our wider community and society – it is one of the five ways to wellbeing.

Graham Burgess, Chair of NHS Blackburn with Darwen CCG, said:

Volunteers play a major role in improving people’s health and wellbeing and supporting them to stay in their own homes and out of hospital. Helping volunteers to turn their lives around so they can use their experiences to help others not only saves money but sometimes more importantly, they can use their expertise in these areas to make their neighbourhoods stronger and more resilient as a result.

For more information on these and other community support initiatives plus the latest community news  see www.communitycvs.org.uk

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