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Eleanor Rothwell's RNIB volunteering experience

Eleanor Rothwell, age 45, (as of November 2022), is a Community Connection Coordinator, based in Cardiff. For the last six years, Eleanor has managed a team of volunteers at RNIB, to engage with blind and partially sighted people, to help them form connections and support each other. To recognise the invaluable contribution to RNIB that volunteers selflessly give, Eleanor nominated her team for the Wales Online award for Peer Network of the Year.

Who can volunteer?

“We currently have around 14 volunteers supporting our peer network groups, most of whom are visually impaired. Many of our volunteers have had help from RNIB themselves and want to give something back. Some have been members of the groups and we have asked them to become facilitators. There are many different reasons someone might want to get involved.

Working as a volunteer

Our volunteers facilitate support groups, either on the phone, or face-to-face. The groups are focused on different topics. People tell us their interests and we find a volunteer who shares that interest to run a group. We have a few groups - two book groups, a gardening group, a technology group, an art and crafts group and sports. Because many of our volunteers have lived experience of sight loss, they are able to empathise and form connections with the groups. Some of our volunteers have benefited from RNIB services and know more about the help that’s available for blind and partially sighted people. So, they can give their experiences of accessing those services and encourage other people to do the same if they are struggling.

Supporting our volunteers

It’s important for our volunteers to feel supported in their role. We offer facilitation training, which helps them to learn how to handle groups. The team also provides ongoing support for our volunteers in the unusual event of any issues or problems, this doesn’t happen often, but we support our team whilst they are volunteering with us. We want to help people develop in their role, so in the future we hope to run a regular training programme that people can use to refresh their skills, or a new volunteer can access to get the training they need. We also get asked quite often to do talks at different organisations and tell people about RNIB and the work we do, so I think it would be great to get some of our volunteers to do this and to share their experience of sight loss and RNIB with other people to raise awareness.

Recognising the value of our volunteers

Without volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to run as many groups, and blind and partially sighted people would not have the support networks that the groups provide. Volunteers give up their spare time they could be using to do other things, but decide they want to be part of what we are doing, so we want to recognise their contribution.

It’s exciting to be nominated for a Wales online award. Our volunteers don’t give up their time for money, they do it so they have the feeling of being useful in some way, or to give back to a service that they benefited from themselves. So it is really important to build a meaningful and supportive relationship, hopefully the nomination will help with that.”