Looking back, my time as a volunteer with the PTC (three years) was a happy and fulfilling one for me. I was part of a staff team that I valued but more importantly I felt part of a dynamic movement, which was shaped by people with lived experience of poverty, who shared a determination to bring about change.
Poverty Truth Members (or Commissioners as they were then known) were crucial to everything I learned and did. How so? Because it was their lived experiences that gave direction and focus to what I did. I learned about in-work poverty, the necessity of using foodbanks to survive and the lack of dignity afforded to people using foodbanks and I heard their stories of Benefit interviews marked by a culture of “distrust” and “disrespect”.
Doing things with (not for) Commissioners such as campaigning on the cost of school uniforms or supporting the meeting up of Scottish Government civil servants and our Commissioners in pairs to mentor each other were eye-opening, fun, sometimes breakthrough moments.
As a volunteer (and later as a paid member of staff) relationships were and are at the centre of everything that I do. Relationships between Commissioners, with those who walk alongside them such as me as a volunteer and people who are in positions of influence.
For example, relationships forged between Commissioners and organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Group and One Parent Families Scotland, by meeting together, eating together, laughing together, sharing stories together did and do lead to real change. One example is by campaigning alongside these organisations and meeting Scottish Government Ministers, our Commissioners achieved a much-improved minimum school clothing grant of £100 per eligible child across all Scotland.
To conclude, as I reflect on being a volunteer, I am struck by how often I heard laughter and saw huge resilience displayed by our Commissioners, often in the face of and despite crushing poverty. As a volunteer I learned about mutual mentoring, facilitating meetings and Conversations, doing press releases and above all serving good tea and cakes. 😊
Most importantly, I learned that being a volunteer alongside people experiencing poverty was a privilege for me. It is of course, no privilege for those who must live with poverty and volunteering strengthened my commitment to fighting to end it.
Davy, Poverty Truth Community.