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A year of change

Communications Support Worker (since January 2019) and Connect Helpline Worker (since June 2019) Tom Dent-Spargo reflects on 2019, a year of big changes for him as he integrates fully into the world of Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service.

 

2019, huh? It’s fairly zipped by. At least it feels that way to me. It’s been a year of huge changes for me, revolving around the wonderful world of Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service. This time last year I was getting prepared to start work as the Communications Support Worker. Little did I know that I would end up as involved as I am now…

I moved to Leeds in August 2016. We moved here because of my wife getting a job up here near her ancestral homelands (she’s a Yorkshire lass through and through). At the time I just had a part time job working from home for a legal journal, the occasional bit of proofreading, and I write science fiction. I was aware of LSLCS but didn’t investigate any further until the comms job came up and piqued my interest. Having had my own experiences with crisis I was keen to contribute to an organisation like this that helps people in a very real and tangible way. This was the small part I could play in that, and it slotted alongside my other journalism work and fiction writing nicely. Sorted.

Having previously worked as a receptionist and then in an office job contacting schools to offer sponsored sports events (basically telemarketing and sales but slightly less evil) I thought I would never talk on the phone again. The simple sound of a ringing phone was enough to send me into a mini panic attack. I felt like I needed decades to recharge from that experience. As an extreme introvert with a high level of social anxiety, ringing out on phones was not really my jam. And I said as much when I joined LSLCS, confidently claiming that I would never work on the Connect helpline.

That perspective didn’t last long. In my induction into the organisation, I participated in some of the training and I was instantly turned around. I could see how talking on Connect can make a huge difference in people’s lives. Just going through the training instilled a desire to be on the phones and helping people in a direct way. The immediate switch to wanting to be on the phones took me by surprise, I can tell you.

A few months later and I started with one day a week. I loved working on Connect so much that only a month and a half later I had requisitioned a second day. And in November I grabbed my third day, and also left my journalism work. I am now a fully integrated LSLCS worker bee.

What is it that I love about working on Connect? I hear you ask. It’s the people. I work with an amazing bunch of people on the phones, both paid staff and volunteers, every last one of them the very definition of a good egg. Staying up late on a shift can take it out of you, but we all look after each other and keep our spirits up to the end of the night every single time. The organisation as a whole is fantastic at checking in with people’s emotions and where they’re at, something that every organisation needs to do more of.

And of course it’s not just my lovely colleagues. It’s the callers. All of them. It’s the ones who are calling to stave off loneliness, the ones who are calling to check in, the ones who are in a crisis and don’t know how to cope, and the ones who are dealing with huge long term issues and situations. It’s the ones who are going through something similar to my own experiences and the ones who remind me of myself in their thoughts and feelings and experiences, the ones where I know exactly what they’re going through. But it’s also the ones who are living something completely different to my experience, whether that’s scary, upsetting, infuriating, or even joyous or curious. No matter the content of the call I feel like I learn so much from our callers and I am there with them in that moment.

In this new world of Connect I have forged relationships with callers and colleagues that already feel far stronger than they ordinarily would after only six months or so. The community of LSLCS is undeniably a powerful force and one that really sets this service apart from others. I’ve received a thank you card at the Connect Open Day, a caller passed on their artwork for the Christmas social media campaign at the 20th birthday, and every single thank you I hear on the phones means the world to me or every time someone says they feel even a little better – these are some incredibly special moments in my time working for LSLCS, and may there be many more.

It’s an endless pleasure to work with such fantastic people and I you’ve all contributed to me feeling like I’ve made a lot of my own progress in my life, challenging me in certain ways to think about my own feelings, making talking on the phone doable again, changing the shape of my working week completely, and leaving me in a position where I look forward to rocking up to the Connect office for a shift or creating a new campaign for social media. So yeah, let’s keep up the good work in 2020. Here’s to a new year in LSLCS.