We’d like to introduce you to one of WAY’s wonderful volunteers, Louise Dodds, who became a WAY trustee this year after being an Area Contact for the North East since 2018.
First things first, when did you join WAY?
I was 29 when my partner, Andy, was killed in a freak cycling accident in France, in July 2015. By six months I had then also lost my grandmother and I felt like I was losing control of my life. My friend shared an article that included WAY and I thought, at that point, I had nothing to lose. I was desperate to talk to someone who understood, another person who could relate to my pain.
How has WAY helped you on a personal level?
My first month, after the accident, was sheer survival. As we weren’t married, I found it incredibly challenging to navigate the world without any rights or entitlement, or even acknowledgement, at times, of the significance of my loss. We weren’t married, therefore, “we weren’t that serious” was a common opinion I was faced with by the general population.
By comparison, once I joined WAY, I felt safe, at home and, most importantly for me, validated. I was, I am, a Widow. I have lost my love, my world and all my future hopes and dreams. Married or not, those things don’t change.
I started going to local events by May and found myself wondering why I hadn’t attended sooner. Steadily, over that past four years, WAY has helped me find myself again, or at least a new version of myself.
Tell us a bit about your role and what it involves?
I officially became the Area Contact for the North East in 2018, which covers from the bottom of Scotland to the top of North Yorkshire. I organise a monthly meal, in a different location, to try and make it accessible for as many people as I can. We go to Newcastle, Durham, Darlington, Sunderland. Work/shifts depending I will also try and organise coffee meets, lunches, days out, walks.
I try to look at other events too like the South Shields Food Festival, spa days at Seaham, dog walks to Northumberland. As the membership grows, I’m trying to include other locations too to help support people in different areas; we’ve arranged a day out in Hexham and we’ve done a day trip to York to meet up with some of the North Yorkshire group.
I also welcome new members when they first join; signpost them to relevant resources and the Facebook groups and chat with them on the website. I remember how apprehensive I was when I first joined, I want to try and make a difficult situation a little easier, if I can.
What do you enjoy about being an AC? What are the challenges?
I love being able to engage with members, to talk to people and to offer support. I’m over four years in now and I can still remember the deepest depths of my grief, how hard that was. I can relate and also share my experiences with members of my journey, hopefully helping them to know that what they are feeling/experiencing is ‘normal’.
Do you have any tips or words of encouragement for people considering volunteering?
I was always very sociable before losing Andy, part of my loss was losing a lot of friends, social groups and the want to socialise disappeared in my grief. Becoming a volunteer for WAY has helped me to become more sociable again. It’s allowed me to push and challenge myself to meet new people, engage with others and help to support people who are living through some of the darkest time they’ll face.
It is incredibly rewarding – the support network that you build up and the power of the group is amazing. Even on a bad day, the love, support and friendships that you gain from the role helps to keep me going. It takes me a little time out of me week to plan events, but overall it’s very flexible and I can do all of this at anytime. Having the support and engagement from members is fab too. They will suggest an event or a location for the next one and help me.
Why did you decide to become a trustee for WAY?
Every time I hear about someone who becomes eligible to join WAY, I want to tell them about our charity and help them seek vital support. I want to be involved in helping people – both those who have never heard of us and our existing membership. Being a Trustee gives me a chance to be involved in all of that and to share my knowledge and ideas with the Board.
What do you get out of being a volunteer for WAY on a personal level?
It makes me feel really overwhelmed sometimes, that out of so much pain, loss and sadness, I get to share this journey with the most wonderful group of people I wish I never had cause to meet. Talking to new members and supporting them at the beginning, with long-standing members who can share their experiences with others and being able to support people on their worst days as well as smile with them on the good days. I’ve met so many amazing people in the last few years and they’ve really made this journey, for me, much lighter. Now, being able to give back to the charity that’s given me so much, I feel really grateful for the opportunities to be an Area Contact and a member of the Board.