Volunteers Week 2016 – From our Volunteers Part 2

Our second Volunteers Week blog come from Sarah Finnigan, who is a student volunteer on a year’s placement with us who has made an amazing contribution to the work we do and the people we support. While not a typical volunteer role –it really captures a lot of different aspects a volunteer can become involved in at Basis Yorkshire and the difference an individual can make to our services and what they can get out of it too! Enjoy the read and why not let us know how you’d like to become involved?

sarah umbrellaI’m almost at the end of my student placement here at Basis Yorkshire, and so I think it’s time to reflect on what can only been described as the most insightful, challenging and educational 12 months. I’m on a year in industry placement as part of my BA Geography degree at the University of Leeds, meaning that I have taken a year out to gain work experience before returning to complete my studies in September. My decision to undertake a placement came about from a desire to gain experience in the third sector, in particular working with vulnerable or marginalised groups, that would hopefully benefit me upon graduation when I enter the increasingly competitive job market. And of course, there was the additional bonus of putting off that dreaded dissertation for another year. This led me to securing a placement with Basis Yorkshire, an amazing charity that provides safety, information and support to sex workers. They also provide specialist one to one support to girls and young women who have been or are at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE), and adult women who have suffered historic CSE.

An average day in the office is difficult to describe, as every day is different. Some things stay the same. I check my emails, respond to any queries from the website. I process orders of the DVD’s that our training enterprise Basis Training sell to educate young people about CSE and pornography. I monitor the social media accounts to see what’s being tweeted about, and schedule daily tweets that raise awareness surrounding the issues faced by our service users and start discussions around CSE and sex work.  I have loved playing a role in developing our presence on Twitter as it is fundamental in getting out name out there and promoting the incredible work that the team does.

Sometimes I will do some work on a long term project. For example, last October I wrote a report on a scoping exercise carried out by Basis Sex Work. Street outreach was carried out every day, and I designed a survey to capture information on the working patterns and opinions of street based sex workers. I recently undertook some research into the online platforms used by escorts to advertise their services. After trawling through many different websites, I was able to establish which have the highest count of women working in Leeds and thus are potential sites to increase our netreach support. Through my latest project, I’ve found myself obsessed by the addictive world of infographics. I am fascinated by how they can produce such a powerful representation of the valuable services that our outreach workers provide, and the impact that a single snapshot of the challenges or barriers faced by some of our service users can have in raising awareness.  

I also have the opportunity to work directly with some of our service users. On a Monday afternoon, I supervise our weekly drop in sessions where sex workers can pop by for sexual health supplies, advice and support, STI testing or just a friendly chat. We have a super cosy drop in room full of donated clothes, shoes and accessories available for our women, and I get to have some fun arranging this and making pretty displays. Once a month or so, I support a street outreach session, in which we provide valuable support to women street sex working in Leeds. We hand out condoms, safety alarms and newsletters whilst offering a friendly face and hot drinks and snacks. We make sure to be well stocked with chocolate as this is always popular with the women!  

My placement with Basis has proved to be incredibly educational and rewarding. I am rapidly learning what it is like to work in the fast paced and sometimes chaotic environment that is the third sector. I’ve had the opportunity to meet professionals from the Leeds City Council, West Yorkshire Police and other third sector agencies. I’ve accessed training on CSE, autism, domestic violence, motivational interviewing and more. Most importantly, I have been lucky enough to work alongside a fantastic team of inspirational people who are passionate about empowering women and young people in Leeds. It is a small yet incredibly strong team and I am grateful to have spent my placement year witnessing them make a real difference to the lives of our service users.”