Hear Hannah’s story and how having an Independent Visitor like Sarah has helped her.

Hannah first met Sarah, her Independent Visitor (volunteer befriender), at the end of August 2017. She sees her Independent Visitor (IV) about every two weeks for a few hours or so. Over the last year they have done a lot together and got to know each other. Sarah has had a big impact on Hannah’s life and been crucial in achieving positive outcomes. When I asked Hannah to describe her IV she responded, “She is a good woman and very helpful. I love her.  If I need anything I can always just ask Sarah”.

Hannah is 17 years old. She lives in Bolton in supported lodgings (like being a lodger in someone’s home). Originally from Eritrea she then had to move to Sudan. At 16 years old she made the long journey to England, on her own, to escape the violence in Sudan. Sadly, both her parents were killed and until very recently she thought all her family were dead. Then on one Saturday back in April she had a telephone conversation that she had only dreamed about, a call with her sister.  She contacted her IV and me with tears of joy. One day she hopes to see her sister again.

Hannah has been able to talk to her IV about things that trouble her. She told me, “I can speak more openly with her than anyone else I have met and she can understand me. I’m not shy in front of her as I am with other adults.  I think she has an honest face and I trust her. She is like family to me.” Having someone to talk to about things that worry you is crucial in keeping a healthy mind and we underestimate the role of listening when others are hurting on the inside. IVs are there if and when a young person needs someone just for them.

The role of an IV is to be there for a young person in care when they need to talk to someone. To listen without judgement and to be independent of other statutory services. IVs will advise and support in a variety of ways. Hannah’s IV has supported her to become more independent and enabled her to acquire some life-saving skills such as arranging swimming lessons for Hannah. Hannah told me she could not swim at all. She certainly hadn’t been in a swimming pool, owned a swimsuit or a swimming hat. Now she can do front crawl. Hannah told me, “I can’t put my face in the water yet but I can swim. I am still going to my lessons to get better.  I think I’ve done well so far.”

Sarah has helped Hannah with shopping and preparing food and taught her to cook some English foods like soups and they have baked cakes together. Hannah told me that Sarah is a very good listener and that she feels she can talk to her, so throughout their journey Hannah has been able to learn more English and practice what she has been taught in college.

Hannah told Sarah she had never been on a bicycle before and would love to learn so she can get around easier and have more independence. Through BLGC and the generous local community wanting to help, we were able to get Hannah a bike and the safety accessories. Sarah has helped Hannah learn to ride a bike in the local park and again arranged some lessons out in the park and on the road through various charities and initiatives. Hannah is still learning to ride a bike and practicing keeping her balance, and quite rightly is very proud of herself. Hannah smiled and said, “both learning to swim and riding a bike have given me more confidence. Swimming has helped me empty my head and relax and it’s good exercise.”

Back in May, I suggested Hannah should try National Citizen Service (NCS). Hannah agreed to give it a go for a week as she does not like big groups of people and was worried she would not cope. Her IV stepped in again and encouraged and helped Hannah to prepare for the residential, making sure she understood what clothes were needed and that she had the appropriate clothing. “Sarah took me to BLGC on the first day…If I am totally honest, I wouldn’t have gone if Sarah hadn’t taken me on that first day.  I was so nervous and worked up about my English and not knowing anyone.  Sarah found my group of 15 young people, without her I would not have gone.”

Hannah went on to say, “In that week I went on a small boat and did lots of exercise”. She told me that she would never have been able to do done that if she had not have had swimming lessons. On the second week she stayed at the University and visited a temple. On week three she was planning awareness sessions on obesity and on the final week running those sessions in Bolton town centre with her group. Not bad going for someone who said she would only try it for a week!

Hannah told me that she really enjoyed NCS and the best thing was, “I made two new friends and we have stayed in touch. I also got out of the house instead of sitting on my own all day everyday waiting to go back to college”. Hannah is just about to go back to college and eventually wants to be a nurse and talks to her IV about her hopes and dreams for the future and what she needs to do to achieve them. With Hannah’s determination, and Sarah’s dedication to help her to become the person she is more than capable of being, there is every possibility that she can achieve her aspirations and make a great nurse.

(Name change to protect identity)

By Sarah Randall

Head of Targeted Youth Services


For more information on how you can help a young person like Hannah, check out our Independent Visitor volunteer role here.