I first began to think about counselling as a career or vocation for myself after spending time working with people in crisis – volunteering on various telephone support/helplines. I became aware that I could help or offer more to individuals to enable them to cope/deal with life events more effectively, which led me to the next step towards doing this.
I explored various options and decided to pursue the Certificate in Counselling at Keele University in the mid 90’s – part of the requirement for the course was a placement of 40 hours counselling. I approached the Dove Service (or Bereavement Care as it was known in the good old days) and was successful in gaining a placement as a Volunteer Counsellor. I have been with the Dove Service as a volunteer, sessional worker and am now employed as part of the core CCG team of counsellors and facilitators.
When I first started to work for the Dove Service their offices were based in several ‘portacabins’ within the grounds of a school in Hanley, just off Bucknall New Road – it was quite an experience, especially in stormy weather and certainly a lot different from the working environment at TDS today. I very clearly remember when we had an office extension delivered – a new cabin to add to the existing ones which was literally a ‘traffic stopper’, having to be winched into place by crane!!
Back then I found the staff and existing volunteers very welcoming and supportive – almost like joining an extended family and, even as a new placement and volunteer, I was made to feel very much at home. Even in those early days there was a genuine sense of enthusiasm and commitment towards clients – something that has continued to be a central theme at the Dove Service right up to the present day, where our clients remain our number one priority.
I have experienced many changes over the years – perhaps the most significant was the move to a more ‘permanent’ home within the Dudson Centre. It was certainly a steep learning curve for the management of the time to be involved in the renovation and refurbishment of the Dudson Centre and to ensure that the plans for our offices became a reality. Over the years I have seen the charity expand and develop, both into new geographical areas such as the Wirral and into new projects working with both children and young people, and clients with learning difficulties.
However, I guess it is still sobering to realise that despite all the heroic efforts of staff and volunteers over the years, there are still some people who are not aware of who we are – some do not realise that, in fact, we are a charity and still greatly rely on donations and fundraising to continue our work.
I’ve had the privilege to work with some wonderful characters over the years – both staff and volunteers –all who have added something to the character of the Dove Service; and, in the words (slightly amended) of a famous journalist – I have seen them all come in and I’ve seen them all go out!!
For me, client work remains the most rewarding part of my job at the Dove Service – both on a 1:1 basis and more recently, facilitating a Bereavement Support Group – I have never lost the sense of feeling very privileged when clients have enough trust to allow you a glimpse into their lives, or feel able to share a particularly sensitive or traumatic moment from their experience. If clients choose to give feedback, it can be very humbling to feel that I have played a small part in supporting their journey through grief or loss – or in some cases, being part of an experience that has been literally life-changing for a client.
It’s always been hard and demanding work, certainly not for the faint hearted, and maintaining a sense of humour is paramount to being able to cope with all the challenges that present themselves on a daily basis. The reward is in seeing the benefits that clients can get from the experience of counselling.
If I had a wish it would be that I hope that in 25 years time (long after I’m finally ushered out of the door of TDS) there is still a service in Stoke and North Staffs that offers support for those affected by grief and loss. I feel very privileged to have been able to mark my ‘Silver Jubilee’ at the Dove Service, but I certainly have no plans to go for a golden one!!
Paul – Counsellor