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Author Jane Duncan
Head of Finance & Operations, Spirit of 2012
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Everything I learned while volunteering as a mentor

Our grant with One Million Mentors is coming to a close so in honour of National Mentoring Day, we asked our Head of Finance and Operations Jane Duncan, a former 1MM mentor in her own right, to reflect on her experience of volunteering as a mentor…

I volunteered to be a mentor with One Million Mentors (1MM) at the end of 2019.  The programme that Spirit of 2012 were funding through 1MM seemed a great way to get into this area and it was something I had been thinking about doing for a while.  I have been working for over twenty years, including a career break, and felt that it would be great to use my experiences across different sectors and roles to provide advice and support to someone just starting to think about their career.  Also, the programme planned to foster a commitment from both sides for a year so you could really build on the relationship and knowledge sharing aspect.

At the point of applying the scheme was based in schools with children in the year coming up to GCSEs and would focus on their thoughts on careers and confidence building.  This seemed like an interesting prospect for me as it would be very different from anything I had done before and a group of people that I did not really have recent experience of. It would be great to help someone at this early stage and give them someone to talk to that was separate to their school, family and friends.   

Uprising provided several training sessions which were face-to-face that covered the basics of mentoring and their processes.  It was great to meet a group of people from different backgrounds that were also about to become mentors on the scheme too.  We then had sessions at the school in East London with our mentees over the coming months on a monthly basis.  All the sessions were done on site with teachers present for safeguarding and took place after the school day.  The mentees had been volunteered onto the scheme by their peers which was really nice as the scheme was being used by pupils that may not have volunteered themselves due to confidence or otherwise which was what the mentoring process was sometimes in place to help with.

I do think it benefits both mentor and mentee in learning about other people and their life choices as well as using knowledge and experience to help inform decisions.

I had a good number of monthly sessions on site and was building a good discursive relationship with my mentee, talking about confidence and stresses placed on them regarding work and then sharing thoughts about what to do about these issues.  Unfortunately, then Covid hit - which from an early stage in the pandemic stopped external visits to the school - so the scheme was put on hold.  It was a real shame as I felt that I was learning about different issues faced by teenagers in a different part of London and that I was in turn helping with some techniques how to cope with these.

With the programme on hold, I remained on the 1MM database whilst they adjusted to the changes in circumstances and earlier in 2021 I was approached again to be a mentor but this time for a graduate looking for mentorship in relation to job choices and interview techniques.  I agreed to offering my mentor services and noted that this time it would be done virtually, given the ongoing pandemic restrictions.  Mentorship in schools was still not available due to restrictions of on-site visitors and safeguarding issues with online sessions so the focus of the scheme had shifted to older mentees, though still young people.

This was a different mentor relationship to the first as my mentee was in a different career stage.  We held monthly zoom calls which covered career planning and choices and lead to actions for my mentee to work on after the sessions.  I really enjoyed the relationship and discussions and saw great progress in the decisions my mentee was making in their career choices.  I felt I was making a difference with suggestions drawn from my experiences and pointing them towards information that could help inform their decisions.

Our regular mentoring sessions have ceased recently as my mentee has started a postgraduate degree course, so is not in need of more sessions at this stage. However, we plan to keep in touch in the future and I will be interested to see how they get on following the choices they have made. 

Overall, I have really enjoyed and gained experience from my two short mentoring relationships so far and I am looking forward to being able to have another mentee in the future as I do think it benefits both mentor and mentee in learning about other people and their life choices as well as using knowledge and experience to help inform decisions.  I hope that my next mentor/mentee relationship builds over a longer period though I am pleased with the help and support I have been able to provide so far to two different people.

I would definitely recommend a mentor/mentee relationship for everyone and a scheme like that offered by 1MM is a great mechanism to do this. It is a big commitment, and with a monthly session for a year along with some training and possible research or contact in between sessions, it is not something to be taken lightly.  However if it is something that you value, it is worth working out how you can fit it in to your work-life. Some organisations, like Spirit of 2012, offer volunteering time off each year or it could be something you could do as a development activity during the year that your employer would support. I think it is valuable time spent for both mentee and mentor.