“I’m not there to prompt, I’m there to facilitate and to help; and we learn together.”
Emma Storr, Growing Points Guardian
Emma is one of our many wonderful guardians. She joined Growing Points two and a half years ago. Our new volunteer, Laura Palmer sat down with her to discuss her experience of volunteering with Growing Points…
Tell us briefly about yourself
I was never a scientist so when I was at school I was much more interested in the arts and I ended up doing a social science degree before I went on to do medicine. I’ve stopped working as a GP now but I still do some freelance teaching of medical students at the University of Leeds. But in terms of writing, I’ve written all my life.
When did you join Growing Points?
I first joined about two and a half years ago. One of my friends had been working with Growing Points for a couple of years and it seemed to coincide with semi-retiring. I wanted to do something helpful and my friend had told me about the Hidden Talents project at Growing Points. I love talking to people and meeting new people from different cultures, so it seemed like something I’d like to help with.
In terms of my role as a Guardian, I feel that the responsibility is very much to find out what the customer wants, because people come with such different expectations, different qualifications. I’m not there to prompt, I’m there to facilitate and to help; to help them negotiate things like paperwork and procedure that they are not familiar with, and often I’m not that familiar with either, but we learn together.
Can you tell me if your voluntary work is related to your other work/s? Is this your first work in the charity sector?
Volunteering at Growing Points is my first work in the charity sector. I think I was very influenced by working in a practice in a deprived bit of Leeds where we had a high proportion of asylum seekers and refugees in the early 2000s. I got used to using Language Line and seeing people who were very traumatised, and this made me want to give something back because what I could do as GP was quite limited.
As a guardian your main role is supporting service users to achieve their ambitions. Can you tell me if you also learn from each other?
I definitely learn from them. I learn what their needs are. I’m a little cautious about exploring their background because it’s up to them if they want to tell me and a lot of service users have had very traumatic experiences so I don’t tend to probe much about that. But what I’ve learned is peoples’ amazing resilience, pride, determination to work and contribute here and their gratefulness to the UK for hosting them. I’m also learning what people want and how they can access that – things like language classes or how to get UK registration as a pharmacist. I’ve had to look a lot of this information up.
I also gather that you are a poet. Can you tell me more about that?
I’ve always written poetry, ever since I was a child. There’s something about the musicality of poetry that I enjoy enormously and when I semi-retired I decided I would try and take poetry more seriously. I did a Distance Learning MPhil in Writing at University of South Wales with a group of poets, led by Philip Gross, who I’d admired a lot. It seemed like a good thing to do. I thought go on…go for it.
And you have decided to donate all the proceedings of your Poetry Pamphlet sales? Why?
I’m in the fortunate position of not needing the money and it seemed to me a good thing to do to contribute in a small way financially to Growing Points. Also it made me feel more comfortable about selling the Pamphlet – I didn’t want to ask people for money but since it’s for Growing Points people often give a bit more than the Pamphlet is worth!
I was also told that you have written a poem about your experience of working with migrants. Can you tell me more about that?
The director of Growing Points asked if I could write a poem reflecting my experiences and I didn’t quite know what was going to come out. I didn’t want the service users to be seen as victims and I wanted to stress that their skills are very valuable to our NHS in this case. I was trying to get the balance right between my position and theirs, but without me not dominating it. I wanted to express a sense of gratitude to them.
Here it is:
I don’t ask how you came to be here,
if you’re shipwrecked, on this island.
I don’t ask why, or if you chose this
Yorkshire city, built on wool.
I don’t ask what you’ve lost, or who
you may have had to leave behind.
We talk about other things:
bus routes, rain, the fractured sky.
The words pour out and I’m amazed.
You can laugh in four languages.
You tell me what you want to do,
a new script in a different place.
We gaze together at the future:
you are working, busy, proud.
Your hands are strong, palms open,
offering your unwrapped gift.