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Norwich School Blog

Harvey Sillitoe: My Life with Nelson's Journey

Harvey Sillitoe (L6P) writes about his experiences as a Youth Panel Volunteer with Norfolk charity Nelson's Journey. The charity's young volunteers were recently recognised in the Queen' Award for Volunteering, the highest award given to UK volunteer groups and the equivalent to the MBE. 

Nelson’s Journey Blog – My life with Nelson’s Journey

Almost 18 months ago, I was starting my Silver DofE programme and for the volunteering aspect, I was really interested and amazed by the work done for children at Nelson’s Journey, so I proceeded to email the charity to ask if there was an opportunity for me to volunteer with them. For those of you who don’t know who Nelson’s Journey are, they are a charity who support bereaved children in Norfolk and when I first researched them, I didn’t really understand what bereavement was, but basically, they help children who are struggling with the loss of (normally) a loved one.

I soon got a reply from someone who turned out to be one of the most friendly and caring people I have ever met, Lorna, who was delighted that I was interested in volunteering for Nelson’s Journey.  It turned out that not only could I volunteer and help Nelson’s Journey, but they became one of the biggest supports to me as I dealt with the very painful loss of my Grandma.  My Grandma died after just over 2 years of struggling in care homes and hospitals after difficulties resulting from an operation. The operation left her effectively disabled from the neck down, making it extremely difficult for me to talk to her, as she could only give very small and limited responses. Whether or not it was this difficulty that prevented me from going to visit her frequently (I found it incredibly upsetting seeing her in this situation), but I consequently felt that I had supported her very poorly. When she passed away, it left me in a state that I still sometimes struggle with today, as I felt I didn’t do enough as her Grandson when she really needed me.

These are exactly the sorts of emotions that Nelson’s Journey help children with.

And this was another reason that Lorna at Nelson’s Journey was very keen to help me by not only giving me some volunteering experience on their young volunteers' panel, but also by supporting me through the loss of my Grandma.

When I went along to my first meeting, I was determined that I would repay Nelson’s Journey for the help they had and are still giving me today. So, after experiencing my first meeting, I was absolutely blown away by how much of a family the adult leaders and young volunteers were, and how honoured I was to be accepted as part of the team. Throughout my time at Nelson’s Journey, I have had some amazing experiences: I have helped organise fundraising events, run fun events for bereaved children like the Easter Egg Hunt and the Walk of Smiles; I have read at their Christmas Carol Service, I have spoken publically about bereavement at their big Christmas Quiz at The Open, I have helped at Purple Picnics and attended school engagement events to help teachers understand what they can do to support bereaved kids.  I have also been privileged to help with the development of the Smiles and Tears gift box, App and board game, all for helping children to understand what bereavement is and how funerals work.

Last year, the Charity’s Youth Panel and young volunteers were nominated for the Queen’s Award for Volunteering. This is the highest award that can be given to a volunteering organisation in the UK. One of the royal adjudicators came along to speak to us and attended our Carol Service to judge us for this award. This was a remarkable event that took place and was also my first ever Nelson’s Journey Carol Service. There was a band, games, face painters, gingerbread men decorating and loads more. During the service, carols were sung, memories of lost loved ones were spoken about, photos were shown and readings and poems were told. I was lucky enough to be asked to do one of the readings and I felt so honoured to address the hall full of people who had all encountered devastating experiences. Also, at the Christmas Quiz, which was broadcasted on Heart FM, two other young volunteers and I were asked to talk about people we had lost and how Nelson’s Journey had supported us - another truly memorable experience. As a result of all the incredible work Nelson’s Journey does for children like myself, and the role the young volunteers play, the charity was one of the groups who achieved the Queen’s Award for Volunteering on 2nd June 2020.

I still am at Nelson’s Journey today and I am dreading the day I have to leave on my 18th birthday. I owe Nelson’s Journey so much for what they did for me and I can’t wait for quarantine to be over, so I can get back to volunteering alongside all my friends at Nelson’s Journey.