Chris Hattrell, our Leeds Autism AIM team’s Coordinator, talks about his journey from being a volunteer Autism Mentor to becoming an integral part of the service. This is the first of a series of blog posts for Volunteers Week 2022, talking to Advonet Group staff who started out as volunteers.

When did you first volunteer? What got you into volunteering with The Advonet Group?

I began volunteering with The Advonet Group four or five years ago, as part of Leeds Autism AIM’s mentoring programme for autistic adults. There were a number of things that motivated me to apply to be a volunteer here. The first was that both Leeds Autism AIM and The Advonet Group are well regarded and have a reputation for practising what they preach.

The volunteering roles available also drew me to apply, I felt that they offered me the opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Overall, it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to work alongside and learn from their paid staff, build confidence and use my time in a more constructive way.

How did you feel about volunteering? What did you learn?

Initially, I was very nervous about volunteering, particularly in the mentoring role as I felt a responsibility to the people who used the service to do a good job. However, it quickly became clear that I would be well supported and that I would get plenty of training. The autism training in particular is some of the best, most up-to-date and person-centred I have received (and I have done a lot of autism training in my life!).

I think from a practical standpoint, I learned a lot about advocacy and the rights of individuals in relation to the Equality Act and Human Rights Act. Personally, I learnt a lot about myself in terms of what I am capable of when supported by the right people.

How did you move from volunteering into a paid job with The Advonet Group?

After a couple of years of volunteering with Leeds Autism AIM for a few hours a week, I realised that this was how I wanted to spend every day. Once I said this to Owen (our Volunteer Coordinator at the time), I was encouraged to apply for roles as they came up.

I was also given additional opportunities outside of my usual volunteering role to build up my skills. This included shadowing the Volunteer Coordinator and supporting the training of new volunteers.

What would you say to someone who wants to volunteer with us?

You won’t find a more inclusive and supportive group of people. There is only one place like The Advonet Group. If you want to work as part of a truly user-led and welcoming organisation, this is the place for you.

If you would like to become a volunteer autism mentor with us, please email [email protected] and we will be in touch.