Rachel's Story

In March 2020, I was sat scrolling through volunteering opportunities - Covid had just hit the UK and I figured that there would be organisations in need of help. That’s when I came across an advert for Hestia.

Volunteering has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember; I’ve always wanted to help people. When I was younger, a lot of people helped me, and I think it stemmed from that. I saw first-hand what volunteering can do for people. It makes the world a better place.

I reached out and spoke to the volunteering team. They were so lovely. I started doing food drop-offs for Hestia service users who were shielding. I did as many as I could; I never said no!

50 Voices domestic abuse refuge support worker

When lockdown started to ease over the summer, there were less drop-offs for me to do. I asked if I could help in any other way, and the volunteering team put me in touch with Hestia's Summer Play Scheme, which provides activities for children living in domestic abuse refuges.

In the refuge, you could see the impact you were having on the families. You could see their recovery happening in front of you.

Before volunteering with Hestia, I was working as a waitress to make ends meet while I did my master’s degree in psychology. In the summer, I was asked to come back to work, but I knew I didn’t get the same satisfaction from it that I do from supporting people. It inspired me to apply for a paid position as a support worker in one of Hestia’s refuges.

One week after my volunteer role ended, I started my new job.

I’m now six months into the role and I’m so proud of how I’ve been able to take ownership of the refuge and see it develop. I’ve been able to use my degree in the work I’ve been doing, working with Hestia’s operations team to make sure the refuge is a psychologically informed environment. We’ve been changing the layout of the refuge to make it as welcoming as possible.

50 Voices domestic abuse refuge support worker

I wanted to give back to the volunteering team too, as they helped me get to where I am today. I’m forever grateful to them. I’m now working alongside a volunteer to look at how we can redesign every bedroom and living space to make sure they are homely and inviting. It’s more than just a lick of paint.

When people move to a refuge, it often doesn’t feel like their home. We are committed to making it a safe space where people see it as their environment, one where they can focus on their mental health, their development, and their future. Next, we’re completely redoing the garden.

Every time I come home, I feel like I’ve made a tiny change to someone’s life. It feels like you’re putting a bit of good into the world. That can be good for your own mental health. It’s a difficult job sometimes, but what you get back from it makes it all worth it.

50 Voices domestic abuse refuge support worker

I’ve been working since I was 13, and I am yet to have a job where I am this excited to go into work every day.

In the last six months, I’ve seen 12 women move out of the refuge and into the next phase of their life. They might not always be able to see it, but you can: in such a short space of time, they have flourished.

Which book has impacted me the most?

It’s more of an author than a book. My stepdad introduced me to Terry Pratchett when I was nine and I was fascinated by the way he built worlds in his books. He tackles things like discrimination and the class system but does so in a creative and almost fun way. He shows you what things are like in the real world through his writing.

Which film has impacted me the most?

I love Marvel and fantasy films. My favourite film is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s so good – I would recommend it to anyone! The artistry is so beautiful, it’s lovely to watch. It’s so representative too. It’s just great!

Which song has impacted me the most?

I will listen to anything and everything, from screamo, to classic rock, to modern pop songs. (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding is probably my favourite. My mum used to sing it me when I was little, and it’s stuck with me.