Volunteering as an administrative assistant to the Aberdeen hub was a very insightful experience and a real privilege. Everyone can appreciate, at least at some level, the pressing need to for charities, like Shelter Scotland, to provide support in matters relating to social welfare and housing.
Charities generally do a good job of making us aware of their necessity by publishing the alarming statistics which they must confront – for example, that at the end of 2015 there were 10.4 thousand households in Scotland living in temporary accommodation. Such statistics are less useful when it comes to illustrating the challenging nature of the work which housing and debt advisers have to deal with on a daily basis. Being able to see for myself the huge amounts of knowledge and resilience needed to be a Shelter Scotland adviser is what made my experience volunteering so eye-opening.
Even the more mundane administrative tasks that I assisted the advisers with afforded me real insight. I quickly grew to appreciate the difficulty of supporting clients who, despite being in urgent need of assistance, may not, for whatever reason be in a position to fully engage.
Alongside administrative work, I was encouraged to participate in any aspects of the hub’s work which I was particularly interested in. This encouragement opened the door for me to assist one of the housing advisers (who specialised in assisting European migrants) with some legal research. I found that carrying out research for a more purposeful reason than for the sake of completing an essay or answering an exam question was a really rewarding experience. In this case the research formed the basis a successful appeal/ ‘formal reconsideration’ of a decision by the local authority to reject a client’s housing benefit application.
I feel fortunate to have had this experience which afforded me the opportunity to see what a career in the voluntary sector is like, ‘warts and all’. Despite having a more realistic impression of the demands of the job, seeing first-hand the positive outcomes that the Shelter Scotland Aberdeen Community hub achieves for its clients has reaffirmed my ambition to pursue a career in social welfare law. It was a privilege being able to learn from a group of people who were as committed to their jobs as they were generous with their time.