Essex County Council is looking for volunteers to befriend and mentor young people in care.
The Independent Visitors Service is run by Essex County Council and gives young people in care time away from the environment they are in by matching them with a volunteer mentor who visits them once a month.
Laura Hayden, who lives in Danbury, became an Independent Visitor (IV) six years ago and was matched with Kayleigh, who at the time was 14 and in foster care.
When Kayleigh was younger, the pair would go to local attractions such as the cinema and zoos. Nowadays they tend to stick to shopping, lunch and their favourite past-time; talking.
Volunteers are given full training on all possible situations to ensure they are confident and informed.
Laura said: “When you first apply you think you’re giving up your time but you very quickly realise you’re not giving up that time. We are just sharing this. As far as I’m concerned, as long as Kayleigh wants to see me, I will always see her. She will always be part of my life.”
Kayleigh believes the service has made a real difference to her life. She said: “I feel myself and I don’t feel distant anymore. I’ve got more confident, livelier and I’m not hidden away like a little girl in my bedroom.
“It’s been so nice to go out once a month and actually just relax a bit. Laura understands me and we’ve been out so much now she’s like a friend rather than an IV. I’ve just enjoyed every single bit of it.”
Laura is one of the 60 Independent Visitors recruited by Essex County Council, but the service is looking to double this figure, with another training course taking place in July.
Doris Lindsell, Project Coordinator, said: “Laura and Kayleigh are a wonderful match, and the stories I hear from both our volunteers and young people are inspiring. I urge anyone who is thinking about volunteering with young people to apply to us.”
Cllr Anne Brown, Cabinet Member for Corporate, Communities and Customers, added: “I have loved hearing about Laura and Kayleigh’s journey. The difference they have made to each other’s lives is clear. Our Independent Visitor’s service is an important one, and it is vital to the lives of our young people in care that we continue to recruit volunteers.”
The service is looking for anyone over 18 who feels they have the right skills to become an Independent Visitor, and are particularly keen to hear from males and the BME community.
For more information about becoming an Independent Visitor email Doris Lindsell at IV@essex.gov.uk, or call 03330134259.