For Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May) volunteer Sean produced a series of podcasts based on the 5 ways to wellbeing, interviewing Volunteering Matters staff and volunteers about maintaining positive mental health. During the pandemic many of us have taken a hit to our mental health, and social action projects like this can be a really good way to connect to others in the wider community.

My name is Sean Walker, I’m 28 years old and for the last 6 years, I have worked in primary and secondary schools. I’ve always had a keen interest in working with music and audio, whether it be composing music, recording or editing audio. In the last few years, I have built on my enthusiasm to work within radio and on podcasts, from my home studio.

I recently began volunteering with Volunteering Matters, advancing my skills whilst looking to work with others to bring project ideas to life. Volunteering brings me joy and I have also volunteered at Oystermouth Radio in Swansea, and Radio City, Swansea’s own hospital radio service. When giving up your time to volunteer, you tend to meet a whole lot of different types of people. It’s wonderful when a group combines their creative ideas together – the results can often be unexpected.

With the Volunteering Matters staff team in Wales, we decided to produce 5 podcasts for Mental Health Awareness Week. The podcast series focuses on each of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, proposed by the Mental Health Foundation. These are: Stay Connected, Keep Active, Give, Learn new skills and Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness). We tied the series in with this year’s theme on nature.

When I have done podcasts in the past, the Eurovision Song Contest being one example, it was just a case of getting stuck in, going away and doing it. This time, we had 5 different podcasts to prepare. A group of us came together to discuss the different types of content that we could include, and who we could interview. Each podcast included interviews with staff members at Volunteering Matters and the volunteers themselves, who answered survey questions, enabling us to create our own statistics, which were a fun feature in the podcast series. And of course, to give our podcasts a nature vibe, we asked people to record some nature sounds using their smartphones, which I then layered, and it ended up being our 2-minute outro for each podcast. Bit by bit, we patched it together, and then I went away to record it.

One of the key things about my volunteering role is involving people creatively. It’s particularly important to utilise people’s talents – it may sound obvious. But if someone in a group can video edit effectively, give them charge of that. The same goes for researching, writing, editing audio etc.

What I love about audio broadcasting is that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, providing you have internet access, or a relatively decent radio signal, you can tune in and stay connected without the need of visuals. When people listen to a particular radio show or podcast, they get a feeling of belonging and togetherness, whether it be discussing topics, general chit chat, listening to sport or playing music. People always said that TV would replace radio broadcasting, but in many ways – I think some people generally prefer it.

What I have noticed throughout this, is that volunteering can be very broad. The word ‘volunteering’ simply means to freely offer to do something. That ‘something’ can be anything, providing it’s what you enjoy and get good energy from doing it. My message to anyone wanting to volunteer would be: Think about something you enjoy doing, and something you would like to improve doing – getting your teeth stuck into something you love can be so rewarding, and is one of the best ways to improve.’

The Volunteering Matters staff team work closely with volunteers to make sure their experience is as good as possible. Jayne was involved in making the podcasts for Mental Health Awareness Week, and she shared her take on young volunteers getting involved in youth social action projects.

‘As an Engagement Manager on the Activ8 project, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities for young people.

I view Volunteering Matters as a whole, with a plethora of experiences to be had, not just individual projects that might not suit everyone. After all, you need to get out of volunteering as much as you put in! So when Sean put himself forward, we knew there would be a good fit somewhere.

Luckily for us, Sean not only has the confidence, but also the studio equipment and skills to conduct high quality interview. He was able to work with our Full-Time Volunteer Damien, weaving Damien’s research into the other content of the awareness-raising podcasts.

He’s given us a platform for our work, whilst gaining valuable experience to enhance his future career. I’m grateful for the creativity and diverse range of skills that young people bring to volunteering. They have an enthusiasm that breathes life into projects and without volunteers like Sean and Damien, we wouldn’t be able to produce this sort of exciting content! ‘