Get to know our amazing volunteers!
I started volunteering for Equal Lives after I retired from my job as a Legal Officer. Being disabled myself and having heard positive things from friends about the philosophy of this organisation, I saw volunteering as a way of using skills acquired in my career to help people navigate the benefits system. I had worked in welfare rights in the past, but this was many years ago and my knowledge was very out of date. But there was no need to worry, as Equal Lives provided very comprehensive training, and I found its employees and other volunteers to be always happy to answer questions or discuss difficult cases.
I was given a choice about exactly how I wanted to be involved and decided that I could be most useful helping people who wanted to appeal against decisions made in their ESA and PIP claims. I chose this because it made the best use of my previous experience and offered a lot of variety. It also meant that I didn’t have to commit myself to specific days and times every week and had a lot of control over my time.
I enjoyed seeing the clients, talking them through the process and drafting the appeal submissions from the information they gave me. Many of them were terrified of going to appeal and needed a lot of reassurance and support. Equal Lives is successful in most appeals, and winning is a great feeling because you know that you’ve helped someone through what is a very confusing and frightening ordeal and often saved them from losing an essential source of income and plummeting into debt and extreme poverty. I also enjoyed keeping my brain active. Currently I’m working from home because of Covid and dealing with a variety of benefits-related queries that arrive at the office daily, but I’m looking forward to being able to get back to appeals work and the personal contact with clients and colleagues that makes volunteering so enjoyable. Jean Thirtle, Equal Lives Volunteer
I was once told that ‘life is difficult’. No one can argue with that! Except I was not expecting all of life’s difficulties to hit me in one go; at least that’s how it felt. I had a professional, responsible role, before retirement due to ill health in 2012. I experience life changing health problems, which lead to my physical and mental illnesses. My life had turned on its head! As well as physically not being able to do some of the things we take for granted, like a walk in the woods or along the beach, I had to rely on others to help with everyday tasks. Mentally, I felt I could not cope as I no longer felt I had a place in society. Of course, with help and support, I got through that exceptionally dark period. This helped me realise that not only did I have some professional skills required to assist others, but I also have skills that you can’t teach, they are learnt through experiencing life’s difficulties. Once I had come through my life changing experiences, I started volunteering as an Adviser Advocate supporting those in a similar position to myself. Rachel, Equal Lives Volunteer