How I found myself talking about being a volunteer mentor to a packed audience at Westminster

Michael is a volunteer mentor on our Time Together project, which supports refugees and asylum seekers in the Midlands, helping them integrate into British life. Here he describes how he came to be talking about the project to a packed audience at Westminster.

A month ago I was contacted by TimeBank to talk about my first year as a volunteer, mentoring an asylum seeker in the West Midlands. Yes, of course I can, and can the mentee come with me? So we found ourselves at the Palace of Westminster at the launch of TimeBank’s impact report, and I was standing up in front of about 60 distinguished guests including trustees of TimeBank, at least one member of the House of Commons and one titled personage as well as potential volunteers and business leaders.  

I was the third of three speakers to present to the audience, who were sitting in serried rows as well as having to stand at the back and sides of the room and my nerves were a-jangling. 

I am always conscious of how I am perceived by the audience- white, middle class, bald old guy with glasses, retired, but what I wanted to get across was that each of us have a back story, that stretches way back into childhood, and which continues to inform our actions on a day to day basis. 

My success in my chosen profession has been informed and shaped by my early experiences as a new arrival in the UK, speaking little English. This informed my decision to volunteer to mentor an asylum seeker.  

Mentoring is one of the ways in which we ask the mentee to consider the short term goals they want to achieve and think about how they can be achieved, but importantly mentors can share the cultural capital they have acquired over the years, to help new arrivals know more about life in the UK, to settle in.   

It also offers a listening and confidential ear, giving time and space to the mentee that enables them to ask questions and find answers about life in the wider community, all without feeling foolish. Mentoring aims to build confidence and build capacity but also construct networks and access services that perhaps we take for granted. It enables the mentee to make use of the contacts that mentors have built up over the course of their lives and identify their own way forward. In some ways mentoring is a bit like being a good parent, but to an adult and not a child - setting boundaries and expectations, questioning, posing alternatives but always thinking about enabling the mentee to move forward.  

Undertaking the role demands a time commitment of 1-1.5 hours per week. The training by TimeBank was essential to learn about the limitations of the role and responsibilities, and the team’s support provided advice and guidance along the mentoring journey. 

I am now looking forward to becoming a “serial” mentor, and working with another asylum seeker after Easter. I will keep you updated.

If you'd like to know more about Time Together, take a look here.