Attie on volunteering & progression: ‘I want to contribute, that’s what matters’.

“Attie has been the guiding light in their lives and led the way to a more optimistic future.”

Attie was introduced to Groundswell shortly after securing her flat in 2015. Prior to this she had been living in accommodation for women experiencing homelessness in Marylebone, where she had become famous for the support she gave to her peers. Attie frequently helped the other women to write letters to housing providers, complete benefit forms, and translating at GP appointments.

Shortly after moving out Attie was encouraged to apply for the volunteer peer advocacy role at Groundswell, she completed the expression of interest form referencing her experience of homelessness and how she felt she would be able to relate with people. Attie was invited to join the Homeless Health Peer Advocacy (HHPA) training. She couldn’t believe that ‘there was a charity set up to do what I had already been doing’.

After the six-week training programme Attie began shadowing some experienced advocates Dennis and John; ‘I came to realise how very respectful they are of their clients’. Attie has many memories of the clients she’s supported over her time with Groundswell, her favourite part is seeing the long-term change. She talks fondly about a woman she met back in 2015, over the past four years she’s seen her experience a pregnancy whilst homeless, give birth to a little boy and risk having him taken off her and be relocated outside of London to now, where two years down the line she is living in her home raising her son.

Attie emphasises how important it is to build up a rapport and trust with clients. She speaks four languages, meaning her clients can often communicate with her in a way they can’t with professionals such as keyworkers or GP’s because of the language barrier. Attie explains how many of her clients are surprised when she explains she is volunteering given the amount of time and dedication she puts in, but she says, ‘I want to contribute, that’s what matters’.

Underpinning Groundswell is the ‘Give a lot – Get a lot’ ethos the idea that to be a part of something you need to invest in it and there needs to be clear benefits that you get in return. That’s where our progression support comes in. Attie thinks back to when she first joined Groundswell when she used to ‘take the chaos back home’ after spending the day supporting people in incredibly vulnerable situations. Joining the monthly group clinical supervision sessions with her peers meant she was able to ‘offload’ through reflective practice.

Attie explains how much she loves learning, and a couple of years ago she was working on an assignment for her ‘Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults’ when her PC broke. She applied to Groundswell’s progression fund and they helped her purchase a new laptop so she could continue her studies. Recently Attie completed her level three interpreting course, funded by Groundswell, she is currently looking for an agency to work with that will enable her to continue as one of Groundswell’s long-standing peer advocates.

Attie also credits the progression team for supporting her through an ongoing housing issue which she fought alone for years. The problems have caused Attie health problems and last year it got too much, so reluctantly she turned to Pat, Groundswell’s Progression Coach. Attie explains how she is usually stubborn and independent, but she realised, ‘I’m helping other people, but I need help’. Attie talks about how ‘Pat has my back’, she isn’t doing it alone anymore. Pat accompanies Attie to all appointments, works with her to craft emails and letters and is a listening ear whenever she needs it. It’s a long battle that isn’t over, nevertheless Attie explains how the housing association are looking for new properties for her; ‘I feel like there’s a bit of progress with these people…I feel less pressured than I did before, somebody knows what’s going on’.

When asked about Attie, Pat says:

‘I know without Attie’s intervention, many of the individuals she supports would not be in the positive position they are in now. Attie has been the guiding light in their lives and led the way to a more optimistic future. It’s an absolute pleasure supporting Attie, with her concerns, as she gives so much to others and performs the support with professionalism and courtesy to all she interacts with’.