Impact Story - Thorntons Law and Tayside Cancer Support - Social Good Connect

Social Good Case Study

Impact Story – Thorntons Law and Tayside Cancer Support

25 January 2022

Thorntons lawyer Sue Arrowsmith Rodger is a volunteer for Tayside Cancer Support. Thorntons is one of Scotland’s leading law firms, employing around 500 staff. Since joining Social Good Connect in 2020, Thorntons have treated volunteering as a way of life and part of the company culture. Here’s how Sue’s story unfolded:

photo of sue, arlene and linda from Thorntons Law and Tayside Cancer Support

Volunteer Sue with Arlene and Linda from Tayside Cancer Support

The starting point

In 2020 Thorntons wanted to help its employees feel connected at a time when isolation was a huge issue.  Staff were navigating changed surroundings and circumstances whilst continuing to work through the pandemic. These forced situations had a significant impact on people’s mental health.

“Social Good Connect was ready-made and it fits our culture,” says Sue.  “Volunteering with the support of your company adds value to your job and your personal life. What makes this platform different is that it matches employees with causes that really matter to them and helps them find specific opportunities to volunteer in that area. Half the work is already done for you once you’ve entered your profile.”

“Joining the platform has channelled our community spirit – for staff and the wider community – in a more organised way.”

People are stretched in most businesses like ours, but if you look hard enough, pockets of capacity do exist in most in organisations to help the community in some way.”

photo of a volunteer for tayside cancer support
Sue Arrowsmith Rodger

Sue’s experience

Sue has been befriending Tayside Cancer Support (TCS) clients for 18 months on a fortnightly basis. Her day job is a solicitor and legal director, and she fits her phone-based volunteering work flexibly outside working hours.

“Our firm is very supportive of issues linked to volunteering, like extra time needed to undertake the initial training for the role. It can be a tricky balance when you’re busy, but it’s very rewarding. Although the part I play at TCS may feel relatively small and I can volunteer in small chunks of time, I know it makes a huge difference to the people I’m helping. The people we support are on an emotional rollercoaster, with diagnoses and treatment options for cancer changing all the time, and it’s a lot to process and cope with.”

“I supported one client for a year whose family member had cancer, and now I am supporting someone new, who has a diagnosis of cancer herself and has just started her treatment journey.”

“Often people just need a place to offload and vent in confidence about the challenges they’re facing. They don’t want to burden their own families with their deepest fears or concerns and I can feel that they’re keeping their emotions locked up. Speaking in confidence to a volunteer gives them a chance to drop the brave face and open up.”

“I have to make sure I’m in the right headspace for the role, as I wear many different hats as a lawyer and a mother and family-member, as so many of us do. Working in law you tend to be solutions—oriented, whereas befriending is about listening. It’s a useful distinction to make in life as well. The challenge of switching into the right headspace also inspired some interesting chats with my family about how we communicate with each other when we’re ‘off duty’ – it’s a good discipline!”

“Social Good Connect is very user-friendly and we get regular updates from team on the volunteering roles available.  It keeps volunteering at the forefront of people’s minds. It’s like a mix and match space where you can fit your time and skills or interests perfectly with someone’s needs. Tayside Cancer Support (TCS) struck a chord for me.  I get direct feedback from their clients and it makes me feel good to know that I am helping other people.  The people I support are asked every six sessions if they would like to continue – either by phone or video call – and it’s been 18 months now.“

“I feel well supported by the TCS team. The befrienders meet every six weeks and it’s a safe place to discuss anxieties or tricky situations we face. We can ask each other for advice on how to handle sensitive issues and dilemmas. Getting that level of support from the charity I’m helping kind of completes the circle.”

“Although we all have different skills, interests, levels of experience and amounts of time to offer, everyone has something they can contribute as a volunteer. Small ripples can make really big differences!”

What’s been the impact?

According to Arlene Napier, the Befriender Supervisor at Tayside Cancer Support, hearing about the platform was “very timely, especially given our recent struggle to recruit befrienders for our clients – and a time when some of the larger support services actually closed altogether. As a charity we need to keep an open mind for new ways of attracting volunteers, especially as it’s easy to lose them, especially long serving ones, when their own circumstances and focus needs to change.”

“Our clients are a mix of people who are living with cancer and family members who are supporting people going through that experience. It’s a delicate role that needs intelligent listening skills, empathy (as opposed to sympathy), an understanding of counselling techniques and an appreciation that it’s not about giving solutions, advice or opinions.“

“Sue has been wonderful, and we’ve had outstanding feedback. Contributions like hers are like a lifeline to people in need. Despite the pandemic challenges around providing the same level of service when not in-person, she never gave up! Her first client was very isolated and often didn’t speak to anyone for a week. They had quite complex needs and some communication challenges, so Sue learned the software that enabled the conversations to switch from telephone over to Google Duo. The client was then able to express themselves more freely and benefit even more from Sue’s support once they could see a friendly face.”

“We had around 13 regular befrienders around five years ago. We’d managed to increase this to 17 before we signed up to Social Good Connect, but we needed more, as some longstanding volunteers were approaching the end of their commitment and it meant that those remaining were taking on 2 or 3 clients to fill the gap. We lost a few recently, but still have 18 trained, active befrienders.

We’ve had 8 new recruits in total through Social Good Connect, five of whom are still with us, and that’s no mean feat during a pandemic!”

“There are many skills involved in being a befriender. We recruit people from all walks of life. Not all of them naturally have all the required skills, which is why we run 15-20 hours training, which includes listening and communication skills and reflection skills. It’s a happy discovery that the volunteers from Thorntons are well suited to the role and have been quick to adapt to the approach needed to support people who are struggling.”

“When a client is first referred to us, we spend time getting to the heart of what they want from a befriender. We take great care over the ‘matches’ we create. Thanks to Social Good Connect we now have a much wider pool of potential matches. It’s enabled us to bring new, skilled people on board and get us moving quickly and efficiently.”

“Joining Social Good Connect is a no-brainer for businesses and charities.  You have happier staff if they’re invited, through work, to get involved in fulfilling activities outside of work. It often increases empathy with people and situations that aren’t like our own, and it’s a great personal development (and for some, a career development) tool.”

“People feel satisfied by giving something back, as well as gaining new skills from their volunteering roles to take back into the workplace. No-one is ever worse off for having taken up volunteering and having helped someone in need!”

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