Volunteers' Week: Our Monday Volunteers!
To celebrate Volunteers' Week 2017, we will be posting interviews with some of the wonderful people who support Headway and our members throughout the year. Our volunteers make a huge difference to our team, and we couldn't do what we do without them!
Today we catch up with Monday volunteer Oli, who has been helping in the Headway kitchen for 13 years!
How long have you been volunteering at Headway?
A long time... I think I started 2004, so before most of the staff worked here! I started when Headway was in Austin House in Shoreditch (we’re now in Haggerston).
My accident was 1998. I did go back to work but I couldn’t stay in my original job and finally took medical retirement after a couple of years. I did some rehab in 2003, and my poor wife – I think she expected me to come back all cured.
I think either my mum or my wife heard about Headway at the Homerton rehab hospital, although I didn’t go there. At my rehab place in Ealing a lot of people were preparing for jobs but I had my pension so I thought I should probably take it easy. Something less stressful, and this place had some relevance I think to my experience, and the people were more understanding.
Can you remember what your first few days at Headway were like?
It was a bit strange, and I didn’t really know what to do in the first few weeks but then somebody was cooking breakfast and I said I’d give them a hand with that, and that’s how my culinary career at Headway started!
There was only a domestic cooker and kettle at first, so it took a while for me to figure out what I was doing, but I got there in the end. Now the place is much bigger and we can do a lot more with it, and I help cook lunch every Monday for all the members, staff and volunteers. I’ve always liked food (it tastes nice!), and I used to cook a lot at home. But cooking for a lot of other people, on a more professional basis, you normally train for a couple of years… I’ve been doing it for 13 at Headway now; there are still lots of things I don’t know, but I know enough!
It filled a gap in my life that had been left by work, because I’d been working since I was 21. I also help at the Headway EATS Supper Club – last time I made risotto and there were three of us helping each other, which was good. People are paying money for their food so you don’t want to mess it up, you want to get it right!
Do you think your own experience of brain injury helped you with members?
It’s like meeting anybody really, because the people are all so different and they have such different injuries. And then even someone with the same injury can have such different outcomes. It is what it is – a bit like Brexit! It has made things a lot better for me though – it kept me sane after I couldn’t work, as I felt really low for a long time. It was nice to get into something where I was able to function properly without any stresses.
What do you enjoy the most about it?
All sorts of things! I enjoy the interaction with all the different people, and I quite like most of the time being able to be my own boss. So if I don’t want to cook something I can go and find something else (normally involving meat!).
It’s very easy going (although I do like to treat Headway as a job now). There’s no real pressure on you, so you do what you can. And it’s fun! There’s no point in doing it if it’s not fun….