For the past couple of years I've been searching for the perfect volunteering opportunity, since deciding I wanted something to fill the rather empty gap between work and play.
Apparently, I'm quite a good listener, and I've always wanted to get involved in a cause where I can use those skills to help someone through a problem. I really believe people can be helped through their demons by listening to someone who's got the time and willingness to hear them, helping them through logical steps and positive thought to find solutions.
Personally, I guess I was brought up in the 'pull yourself together and get on with it' school of thought, but that doesn't mean I'm somehow emotionally distant or incapable of showing it when I've got a problem. Perhaps that's a sort of strength - a sign of a true Taurean maybe - but it makes it all the more frustrating for me when other people don't talk about their problems!
Towards the end of last year, I thought that the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard might seem the perfect outlet for my skills. After an interview back in January they offered me a place on their core assessment training (CAT) course. I tried something quite similar once during my university days - it was 'Niteline' then - or 'Gayline' on Wednesday nights. I remember getting very passionate and angry when the union decided to close it down and even took motions to our union council condemning it. University distractions and the lure of the pub meant that I never persevered with it.
Last night was the second session, in which we learnt lots of useful tricks on how to answer a call. For example, 80% or so of communication is through face to face contact, so you have to make up for it on the phone. You can give verbal 'nods' so a caller knows you're listening, and callers can be encouraged to divulge more of their problem through reflection and 'echoing' of the question. I've started to irritate Andy already with my practice of my new-found skills in everyday conversation. I don't want to give away too much about the training here, because it's probably not the done thing!
I think this might turn into quite a worthwhile distraction for me - the course is very well run, and I'm confident I can reach the standard required to pass and become a fully-fledged volunteer. It'll also be another string to my bow in terms of communication skills - I passed the first stage of British Sign Language level one course last week. There's still a long way to go with both, but the journey's immensely enjoyable.
London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard
020 7837 7324 (daily 10am -11pm)