1st to the 7th June is Volunteers Week. Read the story of Ed Boait, who talks about his journey from volunteering with POhWER to now becoming a Relevant Person's Paid Representative for POhWER.

My reason for joining POhWER was quite simple, I wanted to help others the way that I had been helped. In 2011, I met an advocate for the first time and it left a big impression on me. I was in the middle of a severe psychotic episode and was sectioned in hospital. The advocate wanted to know about me and my thoughts, it was something I’d not experienced before, and I had never felt someone was interested in what I wanted to happen. It seemed to open up my own insight into what I thought was best for me. Over the next 4 years, I was in and out of hospital and I did a lot of work with the same advocate around helping me understand what worked for me. When I left hospital in 2016, I wanted to do something similar, helping other sufferers take responsibility for their wellbeing, the advocate had certainly helped me become empowered.

After taking a few different voluntary jobs, as a way of gaining work experience, I joined POhWER as a volunteer in early 2018. I was hoping to walk into a job as a peer support advocate, unfortunately that was not available at the time. But I started work on producing a training program for peer support advocates. We worked on it for several months and were at quite an advanced stage, when the program stalled. We did a lot of work with the Nottingham team and I believe they have successfully launched the project. But I continued to volunteer and another project was setup, going onto a recovery ward to talk about my positive experience of using advocacy and also how to develop self-advocacy skills. I really enjoyed speaking in front of the small group and I felt they listened to my story. I’ve been learning more and more about the process of advocacy.

Then one of the Relevant Person's Paid Representative agreed to let me shadow him, with the visits and report writing. I was doing this every week for about 7 months. Being on the frontline, seeing the job being done and taking part in it made me appreciate some of the difficulties and challenges. Lockdown started and all of my voluntary jobs stopped, but in September last year, I was offered the role of bank staff RPPR and I was delighted. In the months since I have grown so much, in my communication skills, especially phone skills, in my confidence and in my enjoyment of work life. Being a part of the POhWER team has always been a pleasure, I have used my experience of being a client as an insight into therapeutic practice. I don’t know if I’ll become an Independent Mental Health Advocate like I wanted to, but working within the advocacy profession has reinforced my belief that everyone needs their views, opinions, thoughts and intentions listened to.

I do believe peer support work will become a big part of the future of mental health services. For those who have navigated the tricky maze of mental health services to help guide others toward recovery and empowerment. My journey into work has only just begun and with the help and support of those around me, it should continue to develop.