Condé Nast College student, Alice Morey reports on her volunteering experience and the work of charity STARS in supporting survivors during the COVID -19 pandemic.
Volunteering at STARS Dorset was never part of my long-term plan, but when I left school and took a gap year I found myself with time on my hands and volunteering at STARS ( formerly known as the Dorset Rape Crisis Support Centre) was an opportunity to make a difference and get involved and positively impact the lives of others.
STARS (Sexual Trauma And Recovery Services) is a Dorset charity that offers one-to-one support, free of charge, for anyone of any age or gender who lives, works or studies in Dorset and has experienced any form of sexual violence at any time in their life. A charity which was founded in 1988 and has grown and expanded to the scale it is today.
Last year alone, 1800 people were helped with the youngest being four years of age, and the eldest being in their 80s. Through support services including an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor Service, Counselling, a Children and Young People’s Service, and a Helpline.
Operating during a pandemic
STARS have continued to operate and function during the coronavirus pandemic providing vital services, increasing hours of the Telephone Support Line with counselling and ISVA services support 660 individual clients remotely across all services. During this time clients have been suffering from increased levels of anxiety with many having to spend lockdown with their perpetrators and many were re-experiencing trauma symptoms such as flashbacks and panic attacks.
However, to support the increased number of clients at this time things need to adapt to the necessities and requirements of operating in a digital environment. Which has meant additional costs are placed upon STARS. Currently, we are running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to provide counsellors with additional further training to facilitate online sessions. Develop and train an online assessment team to help minimise the time of the waitlist, as the numbers requiring help have increased. Support the financial costs of running additional remote services and provide wellbeing workshops and mindfulness training to staff and volunteers working additional hours.
My experience volunteering with STARS
Initially starting on the helpline, the training was thorough, and learning alongside the counsellors the process was enriched by the vast variety and experience of other people. This is one of the key positives of volunteering for STARS is working alongside an incredible and truly inspiring group of men and women who may come from completely different levels of experience but share a common goal.
After being on the helpline for a short time, I found myself drawn to the educational and awareness side of STARS. Being 18 at the time, I was a younger member of the team and I was surrounded by peers and friends who, like myself, were unaware of the services on offer across Dorset to help in times of crisis. Further to this, a lack of awareness around what consent truly was, I recognised that I was in a position to be able to take on a preventative role and help people before there was a need and requirement for STARS services. Whilst providing the education that if you do find yourself in need of STARS help, we are here for you, non-judgemental, a listening ear and we are by your side.
Through the years this has seen me working on the stands at Freshers events across Dorset and being a part of the launch of the Consent Tent which saw a team go to music festivals and promote education around consent through fun activities, engaging with people in the most unexpected environment. This allowed me to transition the skills we learned from the helpline training and adapt to extreme circumstances. Moving forward outside of my volunteering into my professional life this has strengthened my ability to work under pressure whilst remaining calm and proactively work as part of a team.
Today I reflect on my experience as a STARS volunteer as the foundation I have built the rest of my career on. As a budding journalist, I have learned the importance of listening, being open and entering into situations with no previous conceptions. It has helped me to see and understand aspects of life which otherwise I would have no experience of. The art of listening was initially hard and wanting to jump in and tell people my own opinion was not helpful. Now this skill has allowed me to have a greater awareness of the world around me and connect to people in a different way. Running #itsnotokay campaigns, through social media has helped in my studies and allowed a very theoretical element of a course, be related to a tangible experience that I can reference in my portfolio.
By Alice Morey, BA (Hons) Fashion Communication