“My Friendship Works experience started with a bad career choice, which sounds unusual, but it’s true. Following several years busting a gut in a job which left me unfulfilled and bored, I decided to take a year out and teach in India. It was during this time I discovered a love of working with children. When I returned to London I made a commitment to spend more time doing things that I love and could be genuinely proud of, instead of just following the corporate career ladder.
“I spent some time exploring potential options; trying to find the one I was most interested in. What struck me about Friendship Works was the direct contact you had through mentoring. Having spent some quality time in India working with some amazing children, mentoring felt like the only logical choice for me.
“I was also impressed that Friendship Works were asking volunteers for a two-year commitment. The rationale here being that it’s no good to turn up for three, maybe six months and then disappear just when any child is starting to get to know you.
“Other mentoring schemes didn’t ask for this length of commitment, and that Friendship Works did gave me confidence in their programme. Although it might seem like a big ask of the volunteer, the reality is that it’s the best thing for the child. Eventually I applied to become a mentor with Friendship Works, which has turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I could have done.
“At first when it all started, I remember being nervous and putting huge amounts of pressure on myself. I wanted Jack to like me and to find our time together rewarding. With hindsight this was a mistake, I soon realized that unless you have kids of your own and have gone through this before, the whole thing was always going to be a new learning process. Over time the more relaxed I became about the whole thing the better it went. It allowed Jack to relax and that helped us to get closer. Fast forward two years and we’ve built up a close friendship.
“I also wasn’t prepared for the teenage factor – that uncommunicative phase whereby on occasions you get very little from them. It probably took us six months to properly become comfortable with each other, but once we were there it became totally natural and our time together quickly became something we were both used to.
“Reflecting back, when it all started I wanted to have all the answers and know exactly what to do. Now that way of thinking seems ridiculous and I just approach each and every new situation with Jack and we take it in our stride. Over two years we’ve developed an openness which I really value. Jack knows he can talk to me about things without fear of being judged or criticized. I try to be a sounding board for anything he wants to talk about, but on his terms, when he wants. This means one week he might want to talk about some trouble in school, the next it could be back to fashion and phones (about which, it seems, I know nothing!).
“Initially I put a lot of pressure on myself to come up with new and exciting things for us to do.
But in the end we settled on what teenage boys like doing best, eating. Again, I reflect back now and understand that it was more important that I turned up every week and kept my commitment to Jack, what we actually did was of secondary importance to that.
“When people ask me why I do it, or what the good bits of being a mentor are, it’s really very simple.
“The best bit about it is Jack, spending time with him and getting to know him more and more. Despite some of the challenges that Jack faces, he has a massive heart. He’s a great young man and has a wicked sense of humour. We’ve laughed a lot and I genuinely look forward to seeing him every week, I really value our time together.
“Sometimes there have been difficulties, and for me the hardest thing has probably been seeing him repeatedly fall into the same cycle of behaviour at school that gets him into trouble. At first I also questioned whether I was adding any value, but I think that self-doubt is natural when you start something like this. Another difficult thing has been making sure I pass on the right advice, or point of view when he asks me for it. But your role as a mentor is to try to look at things objectively and so I always tried to offer several perspectives on things whenever he asked.
“I was really lucky with Jack in that we’re both pretty similar in several ways. This meant that when we needed to talk about something I could often relate it back to a time or experience in my own life. This made it easier for me to pass on advice or guidance, and I think it’s helped Jack to see that other people can make mistakes also. Throughout I wanted to be very honest with Jack and treat him as the young man that he is.
“The main thing I hope Jack has taken from our time together, something we’ve revisited time and again, is that nobody’s perfect and everyone makes mistakes. But it’s how we respond to those mistakes and what we learn in the process that’s really important.
“For every match the role of the mentor might be slightly different. For Jack I just wanted to be there for him, if and when he needed to talk. That I was there for that to happen, should he wish, was perhaps the most important thing.
“Friendship Works has been there throughout. You get a lot of support through this process. I’ve been fortunate to work with two great caseworkers during my time with Jack, who I’ve known have always been there if I needed to talk. Whilst you do have the support of your friends and family around you, having a chance to talk with the Friendship Works team offers another perspective from their experience and there have been times when I’ve really valued their support.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have two great mentors in my life. The first one was with work and she saw the potential in me and helped me to grow. The second, more recently in my personal life, has also helped my development and I owe a lot of what I’m learning in life to her. I think mentoring is a brilliant scheme and happens in many ways in life. I will always remember my mentors for what they have or are helping me to achieve. When I started this I wanted to make a difference to Jack, just as my mentors have to me.
“I am very proud of Jack; he is a brilliant young man with bags of potential. And I will always be very proud of the commitment I made to him with Friendship Works. I would recommend mentoring to everyone.”