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We recently interviewed longstanding Aspire volunteer Larissa, who has overcome her own personal challenges to be awarded the 2021 County Durham Festival of Learning Awards Unsung Hero Award
Award winning Aspire volunteer Larissa was recently named 2021’s Unsung Hero at the County Durham Festival of Learning Awards and in her typically modest and dedicated way, she seems genuinely shocked to have had this recognition.
Looking at Larissa’s story it is easy to see why her nomination was successful. Having been part of Aspire since the project began in 2012, she is a respected and highly skilled volunteer, full of empathy and enthusiasm, always ready to help women using Aspire’s services, but also her fellow volunteers.
“Winning this award means a lot to me. I recently told (Aspire co-directors) Janice and Jan that throughout lockdown helping people had been the thing that had helped me get through it all. Being told I’d won this award was amazing, not that I needed recognition. What keeps me going is helping others, I’ve been in a bad place myself in the past. Supporting others can change their day or even change a whole life. It’s not just the big things, it’s just about being there for people.”
Larissa has been involved in a broad range of Aspire activities, from helping develop and run the Domestic Violence and Support programme, to distributing essential household and hygiene items to women via support packs. She has also facilitated support groups and mentored new volunteer recruits, while somehow also finding time to sign up for Aspire courses too, including mindfulness and meditation and healthy cooking. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, Larissa is a mental health survivor and during the last year she faced several personal challenges, including bereavement and ill health. When asked if she ever found it difficult or triggering to support others, especially if the issues were close to her personal experiences:
“From where I have come from, with my mental health struggles, I understand what women are going through. If I ever find things getting on top of me, I know I can talk to (learning coordinator) Colleen or (volunteer development & support services coordinator) Val. Aspire women are always there for each other.”
Volunteers and carers too often work behind the scenes unrecognised, essential but unseen providers of support and care to millions. According to Larissa this is not the case at Aspire, when asked what had kept her volunteering for Aspire for the past 9 years, she answered:
“Aspire really appreciate their volunteers and I get so much out of being there. When I struggle with my mental health, I help others and I am appreciated, that keeps me well and helps my self-esteem. The volunteers make a great team, we are always there for each other, and it never feels like work.”
Larissa went on to explain that it is so important to talk to someone if you are struggling, even though that can often be the most difficult time to reach out. Something that was also recently highlighted on World Suicide Prevention Day (10th September), and will no doubt come up again on World Mental Health Day (10th October). Larissa lives this advice 365 days a year – one of many reasons she is an award-winning volunteer.
Along with regular online and in centre social and support groups for women, specialist Aspire services are continuing with domestic violence & abuse drop-ins and domestic essentials support packs continuing. Aspire are also offering a rolling Stay Safe, Feel Well programme and monthly drop-ins for women who have been affected by suicide and self-harm. The autumn will also see the return of Aspire’s courses, including drumming, cooking, massage and crafts, which encourage self-expression and build confidence and holistically support positive mental health, self-care and wellbeing.
The Aspire team all extend our warmest congratulations to Larissa on her win in 2021’s County Durham Festival of Learning Awards, with her incredible dedication to women in need, it couldn’t be more deserved, it is worth noting several other Aspire women also received nominations.
Unsung (s)heros fill the rooms and online chat groups that make up Aspire, all supporting and caring for each other, while also finding a way to have a good laugh in even the most difficult circumstances.
Give back to your community, learn new skills and have a great time as part of a friendly team where you will be supported and mentored as you grow and develop. As an Aspire volunteer you will play a key role in planning and developing our support services and be an essential part of their delivery and facilitation.
Those interested should book onto one of our upcoming, informal information sessions. These last no more than 2 hours and will be your chance to ask questions and learn more about Aspire volunteering - refreshments will be provided.
25th Aug 10-12
25th Aug 1-3
31st Aug 10-12
Interested? email us or call 0191 389 1504
Please note due to the nature of our services we can only accept women onto our volunteer training programme.
The Stay Safe Feel Well (SSFW) group is a small, Covid safe, group of 4 to 5 women running with a 6 week rolling intake. It is being provided under Aspire's initiative around suicide and self harm, which also covers the monthly online Suicide and Self Harm Drop-In sessions.
The SSFW group is for women who are experiencing low mood, anxiety and depression. Some may have had suicidal thoughts or have experienced knowing someone who has attempted suicide. Attendees face these difficult experiences though a mood diary, which they decorate themselves. Inside they select a word each week to describe how they are feeling and create a piece of art to represent this.
As the women work they discuss issues that have caused them trauma or worries they may be experiencing. This offers the opportunity for women to peer support each other and share their experiences in a safe and non-judgemental space. At the end of the sessions the women show each other their work and discuss the words they have chosen.
During the 6 weeks of the SSFW group the women experience several trips out for short walks and stop in the community for a coffee - weather permitting. This experience supports general mental and physical health but is also about tackling anxieties about socialising and returning to community spaces following the isolation of lockdowns.
At the end of the 6 weeks each of the women attending produces a piece of art to describe what Aspire means to them. The diary helps the group to look back over the previous weeks and see the progress that has been made. The new intake will consists of women who are on the SSFW waiting list and women who require continued support.
If you are interested in the Stay Safe Feel Well Programme or any of our Aspire women's support services (in person and online) please email us.
As we emerge from a year that has seen women disproportionately affected by Covid-19 lockdowns, Aspire are aiming to address re-integration into social settings, assisting women to build their self-esteem and social confidence with our Monday Meet Up, part of our Stay Safe, Feel Well Initiative.
Isolation and loneliness have had a huge impact on the women we work with and although Aspire were able to offer online and telephone support, there is a significant need for a gentle (socially distanced) in person support group to help women struggling with emerging from this latest lockdown.
Aspire’s person centred approach for supporting women’s mental health includes one to one listening services, befriending and online support groups such as Positive Changes and Mature Friends. We have also helped support women in need of essential items with support packs as we recognise the impact that the additional stress of not having basic items has had on the mental health of our women and their families.
Aspire have ensured that services are co-produced with our team of dedicated volunteers, our Supporting Sisters, who receive thorough training and lead on peer support service delivery. If you are a woman in need of support, then contact our free services via the Supporting Sisters email.
The full press release is available here
On Tuesday 9th February - Aspire took part in the official GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ attempt for #SaferInternetDay. We joined the push to break the record for ‘Most pledges received for an internet safety campaign in 24 hours’ and made a pledge to help create #AnInternetWeTrust.
So, what are Aspire Women Learning, Support and Wellbeing doing to keep our #women safe online?
• ICT courses in our learning programme that cover important online elements such as online safety especially for beginners
• Groups online that are facilitated by volunteers who have been specially trained in safe hosting and facilitation
• Scam and fraud aware staff and volunteers thanks to Friends Against Scams
• Listeners and befrienders available to hear women's concerns and trauma experiences in all areas - increasingly in an online context as we move through Covid19 and lockdown
• Stay Safe Champions and Domestic Violence and Abuse Champions to support and signpost women who have experienced any kinds of difficulties including distressing online content and experiences
• Online Drop-ins where women can openly share their concerns around self harm, suicide and DVA - including distressing or concerning online content they or their families have viewed