I set out to find out more about his time with us. I began by asking how Leo found out about the Volunteer role at Designs.
He said: “I didn’t! I thought I was entering ‘Mind’, the charity! Initially, I wanted to train a little in mental health and hoped they were offering courses. However, the lovely Pip greeted me, asked if was okay and then explained who Designs in Mind is. He then showed me around and I was hooked!
This isn’t Leo’s first time volunteering. He previously worked as a Samaritan for a few years, so he fitted in well with that experience under his belt. I wondered why he was hooked from the get-go, and what drew him to choose Designs in Mind. He shared that the sheer vibrancy of the place was a winner for him, with mental health at its core, he thought it an excellent place to be part of:
“Due to my previous experience, I was straight in, with plenty of help from staff and volunteers, as and when I needed it.”
Leo’s role here with is to help and encourage members with their designs. He is also part of the listen and connect group we have in house.
“I listen when needed and make a coffee for those in need, which is mostly me!”
We recently ran Samaritans training with our existing and new volunteers, which Leo also attended. He shared the skills this has given him: “The Samaritans day course was most useful.
With some very impressive actors, offering a great role play setting. The day was a reminder of how to really listen, how to ask open questions and how listen objectively without bias or judgement.”
I encouraged Leo to share, if comfortable to do so, about his own experiences of mental health challenges . He was happy to share his story. He said: “Yes, I have had depression from the age of 14. Whilst there have been many moments of despair, I found my own ways to handle it, using coping strategies. Although not always successful, I am in the main, well and have a very good and balanced life. It is so helpful that it no longer remains a social disgrace.”
This was wonderful to hear that his experiences have improved over time as the world eases its view on mental health challenges and shows that organisations like Designs really do help smash the stigma.
I was curious as to whether the volunteering role here with us is helping Leo to grow his comfort zone, perhaps raising his wellbeing, confidence, or anything else he felt relevant. He smiled with his rather infectious smile and shared:
“Yes, without doubt, I feel very much part of the community. A community that mirrors my own oddities and foibles back to me and keeps me laughing. My confidence still has a few holes in it but overall, it’s not bad at all.”
I went on to enquire if there was anything else he’d like to share about his own personal journey in life…
My early years were torn with identity issues. Especially when men gave up their seat for me on public transport or stood back and held a door open. At the time it was a painful experience, yet now I take advantage of it. If they want to carry my shopping now, that’s great!
My late Mother, in her later years, often joined the family for dinner at a restaurant. She sat there like Queen Bee until the end of the meal and was frequently heard saying. ‘I don’t know who’s paying for this but thank you very much.’ That’s my new approach to identity confusion just smile and sit back.
I am delighted our society is so much more open and really laid back to these issues. It’s taken years of conscientious hard work. We stand on the shoulder of many before us and for that I am eternally grateful.”
Many of our volunteers come to gain experience as a springboard into other things they may wish to experience. With this in mind, asked Leo where he saw his life heading in a few years time? He shared: “Perhaps to follow more Art/Mental Health training. I completed a short course at Wrexham Glyndwr University last summer a 10-week taster course.
This course was essentially about bringing art to those with mental health issues. Much consideration and sensitivity was given to how we react to their work and how we encourage even the simplest of art work.
We were also asked to design a space for an area within the Health service. I choose to look a centre for kidney dialaysis, where a patient can expect to sit for a three hours during there treatment, looking at intimidating machinery, wires and all that goes with the treatment. My aim was to design a space where the nurses and all the equipment was out of view. This left the patient with a clear view of the floor to ceiling glass atrium and a chance to relax.
I will keep an open mind and go with other opportunities Designs in Mind has to offer too.”
We’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Leo for being such a vibrant and welcoming volunteer with us. Plus, many thanks for agreeing to feature in our meet the team blog and sharing your journey with us.
Here is some of the wonderful work Leo has created in his time with our studio.
Blog Written & researched by Willow, Member & Social Media Coordinator