My name’s Tony and I’m from Redcar- born and raised. I didn’t have the best childhood experience; I was in and out of care a lot so I didn’t really have much consistency in my life. People wouldn’t really stick around. When I was 18, I decided I wanted to do something with my life. I became an apprentice with a local plumbing business and worked my way up to where I am today- owning my very own successful company. I also have a family of my own!
My experiences as a kid always stuck with me, and I wanted to help make a difference. I’ve been wanting to volunteer, but I was always busy and felt like I never had the time.
I had just hired a new supervisor at work, so I had a bit more time for myself. One night I was just scrolling through Facebook, and I saw an ad from Changing Futures, looking for something called “Independent Visitors”. After doing a bit of research, I learnt that Independent Visitors are befrienders to young people in care. This seemed liked the opportunity I’ve always wanted.
I filled in an application form, and I was invited for an informal chat about becoming a volunteer. Before I knew it, I was completing the training. To be honest, I was a bit overwhelmed at first, this was totally different from plumbing! But the more the sessions went on, the more everything became easier to understand. I love the way the training programme was tailored to deal with what children in care may be going through.
Shortly after that, I started the matching process. After giving a bit of information about myself to the volunteering team, I was matched with a young lad name Tom. He was also from Redcar and lives in a residential home. We had a trial match, to see if it was the right fit for both of us, and I was definitely both scared and excited! Luckily, we got on like a house on fire!
For our first meeting, we went for a walk along Redcar beach and just talked a little bit. He was a bit quiet at first, but I learnt that Tom loves football, going to the cinema and going for food. Very similar to myself, then!
Me and Tom have been spending time together for about a year now, and we both absolutely love it. I’ve seen him come out his shell loads, and his confidence has skyrocketed. We meet a couple of times a month, and we love going for nature walks and watching the footy together. Next week we are going to see the new Marvel film Tom has been so excited about!
I see a lot of myself in Tom, definitely. I was a bit lost at that age, I didn’t know who to turn to and to be honest I felt very lonely. It feels amazing to be able to support and be there for him. I wish we had a volunteer programme like this available to me when I was in care.