Meet Eric

testimonial image
April 29, 2023
5 min
testimonial image

What led you to volunteering with Bridewell?

 Covid was such a weird time – not only had I retired but we were also all in this weird state of being isolated from one another and having lockdowns which gave me a chance to think about what I wanted to do post-retirement.  I didn't just want to sit on my hands and do nothing.  I wanted to get involved with something, but I didn't know quite what. 

My daughter works in the area of mental health here in Oxfordshire and she had heard of Bridewell and thought I would be a really good fit for them with the kind of skills I’d developed in my life.

I attended a Christmas fair at Ramsden and Bridewell had a stall there – one of the trustees was manning the stall and we had a chat.  The more he described the work at Bridewell the more I thought “this is something I'd like to learn more about”.  He put me in touch with Bridewell’s Director, who set up an interview and I came along and had a chat with her. I knew I wanted to do something, and I know just from my own career that when people retire, it's always positive for people to be able to draw upon the skills they had developed in their working lives and apply it in some respect to volunteering work. I thought that it would be a good fit for me so that was how I was introduced to Bridewell.

What skills do you think you need to volunteer at Bridewell?

 I think at the at the top of the list is good listening skills, in particular, good active listening skills. Not just hearing people but being able to respond to what people say to you in an empathic way.  So not only how you respond but maybe following up with questions or maybe reflecting or rephrasing which shows “I am listening. I have heard you” and that then turning into a conversation. 

One of the things I've learned since being at Bridewell is that when people are coming out of a mental health crisis or in recovery, getting back out there is just so difficult.  Honing and remembering the kind of skills just to make conversation, to interact and communicate are just so important, so I thought I could be helpful and make it easier for people here at Bridewell to communicate and to be heard and engage in conversation.

Active listening skills are important, empathic responding, basic interpersonal skills plus the skill of knowing when is appropriate to probe or ask questions.   Being able to use your judgement about what would be helpful at the right time with this particular person and in this kind of context.   At Bridewell I’ve learned that I need to be responsive rather than proactive and wait for people to feel comfortable or trusting enough to maybe share what happened over the weekend or how they were feeling at the moment.   I wait for the right opportunity to respond and engage with people and need to use my judgement appropriately on when and how to interact with people

If I can just be helpful and make it easier for people here at Bridewell to communicate and be heard and engage in conversation...

What qualities do you think a Bridewell volunteer needs?

 Sensitivity, being observant, and building relationships with people I guess.  Being open and non-judgemental with people and having that quality enables people to trust and be open.

The core of it all is empathy and being able to communicate that empathy with your facial expression, gestures, words. To show empathy so that people feel they can be open and trust me and can develop a relationship with me over time.

I've been here about three years now and some of the folk who have come and gone in that time I've had the opportunity to develop quite nice relationships with because I come on a regular day and the individual gardeners might come on that same day and know that I'm going to be there and know what to expect of me. They know what I'm like and I think that kind of trusting relationship really develops over time. It’s important to have that kind of quality of being able to be trusted and to give people the opportunity to develop a relationship and not to force it.

What do you find most rewarding about the role?

There's a number of things I find rewarding.  First of all, it's being engaged with my fellow gardeners out here and enjoying that and meeting all the fascinating people who are here at Bridewell, coming from all different walks of life with different kinds of issues.  I enjoy being around for them and trying to be helpful in some way to enable people to get back on their feet again; to be ready to venture out into the world again and engage in a way that they had maybe before their mental health crisis.  When you see people over time grow, develop, feel more comfortable, and gain more confidence - that is incredibly rewarding for me. 

I can remember the first day a person arrived here through to the last day they might have spent here and just to be able to literally see that development over maybe a year and a half or something like that is incredibly rewarding. It's the interpersonal side I find very rewarding and then there is the gardening side.

There's nothing more rewarding than working hard alongside gardeners here and just literally seeing the fruit of our labours from dormant winter when it's just mud and compost and nothing is growing and it all seems dormant and a spring day when you just look at the blossom and see the plants coming up, the tulips look gorgeous and literally seeing the fruit of your labours.   

So, I guess the physical fruit of your labours and also I think the interpersonal emotional fruit of your labours - I think those two things are both really incredibly rewarding.

There's nothing more rewarding than working hard alongside gardeners here and just literally seeing the fruit of our labours

Join our mailing list

If you'd like to hear news from the gardens you can join our mailing list here

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form, please try again.