By Phil Parkes, Volunteer Coordinator, Expert Citizens
I thought it would be a good idea to write about my personal transition, not only from volunteer to staff member but also from the person I was when I started this journey to the man I have become. I would hope many reading this will be familiar with part of my journey from previous pieces I have wrote, all available on the Expert Citizens website.
I Started this chapter of my journey around 6 years ago when at the time I found myself living in a small flat that in reality was used as somewhere to just sleep and drink. I think I lived (if you can call it that) there for about 4 years, during which I went from dead end job to dead end job all mostly ended because of a combination of my mental health and my alcohol consumption. I finally, after receiving an eviction notice because I was behind on rent and whatnot, moved back into a local hostel with the full intention of getting my life in order. I started attempting to get my mental health under control (be able to manage my anxiety) but still at that time lying to myself and everyone around me that I did not have a drinking problem so therefore there was nothing to be resolved in that area. I also restarted some form of education doing an online course in adult social care. It was the combination of all these that led me to having conversations with Voices and then in turn Expert Citizens about volunteering.
I was and I still am very passionate about the work we did/do, trying to get lived experience voices more widely involved with systems change activities. I was very eager to put my name forward for almost every opportunity that was presented to me all the time still struggling with the combination of poor mental health and an alcohol addiction I had yet to admit to meaning at times I would miss things I had made a commitment to and then sometimes avoid going into the office out of embarrassment. This I knew was unnecessary as the team knew about my mental health and quite possibly noticed my drinking before I did and therefore were very supportive which was part of the reason I was so keen for Expert Citizens to be the place where I started my renewed employed career.
Jump forward to 16 months ago where I was unfortunate enough to see my alcohol addiction by developing chronic pancreatitis. Almost from the first day I was released from hospital after a 3 week stay I was going into the Expert Citizens office at every opportunity. I did start to notice that I was moaning lot more and had developed a new level of cynicism (or maybe it was always there but the drink hid it) but going into the office and having conversations over a coffee was almost a form of therapy for me. I did throw myself into work too becoming the volunteer lead for the NECG (National Expert Citizens Group) and working alongside Staffordshire University and more recently the Aple Collective whose focus had started to shift to digital exclusion following the current global pandemic. I have been an active member since my inclusion to the group, writing blogs, attending webinars and facilitating portions of said webinars.
Throughout this process I had been very vocal about my desire to become a paid member of Expert Citizens staff, I had wanted to before I was sober but felt I was in a better place and had a better chance of success now. I applied for a few positions, some with EC some not and had a couple of unsuccessful interviews. I used these as learning experiences and eventually the right opportunity presented itself with a volunteer coordinator role being made available. I put a lot of thought and preparation into the whole interview process with time being put into moulding my CV and writing a covering letter. This proved to be fruitful and I can happily say I got the job and I am the new Volunteer Coordinator for Expert Citizens and I look forward to all that comes with the position. I hope to use my lived experiences and knowledge of the company to aid all our current and new volunteers to be successful in any venture they choose. Here’s to an exciting future.