There are lots of different types of volunteering opportunities at The Hepatitis C Trust. Our team of peer researchers are trained in a range of research methods and work with us to design and deliver research projects. In this blog, Vinnie shares with us how he got involved.
I never expected to be involved in something like the Hepatitis C Trust Peer Researcher Programme. I’m dyslexic and have dyscalculia and I always thought that being involved in anything academic was completely beyond me.
Education, academia and research has always been something I’ve felt excluded from. But there are always ways to be included, it’s just about thinking creatively about how to be inclusive. This blog, for example, was written via recorded interview and then the transcripts were edited.
I became addicted to drugs when I was 15 so I’ve had a lot of experience of exclusion. Because of my age, my doctor didn’t know how to deal with me as I was too young for drug services.
I felt totally lost, I had no self-esteem and I just dived deeper into my addiction. Even now, 30 years later, the stigma associated with drug addiction and exclusion is still in the back of my head, I almost exclude myself intentionally so that I don’t have to experience being excluded by other people. I tell myself that I don’t want to be involved but in reality I do, it’s just a coping mechanism. I’m trying to protect myself.
Part of the way that I coped with exclusion was to get married at a young age. I just wanted something normal. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. During this time I accessed different services including a counsellor and psychotherapist. This really opened my eyes. It felt like a light bulb moment. I began to feel really strongly about how human beings should behave and who they should be and I wanted to help myself and others. It was time to start giving back.
When the opportunity of being a volunteer Peer Researcher at The Hepatitis Trust came up I had to push myself to get involved. I really thought that anything academic was closed to me.
It’s a big part of my recovery and it feels good to have a voice and know that my experiences can help change things for the better.
In the first meeting of the Peer Researchers I felt a bit out of my depth. I didn’t fully understand everything but certain things stood out for me, like the fact that there were lots of different ways to get involved in research. It was important to have my perspective, so that the research and any projects that came out of it, were more relevant to people with lived experience of hepatitis C and injecting drug use. Being included, using my experience and my voice, was all part of this. And there are lots of different ways that I can tell my story.
I’m not exactly sure how long I’ve been in recovery but there are certain documents that tell that story. On paper, you can see that my criminal record, which was pretty continuous for a long time, has just stopped. Whenever I get tested for drugs, I always ask for a print out of the results. It’s incredible to see, it’s there in black and white, my recovery. My pile of clear drug tests just keeps growing.
Since then I have different documents that help me understand how far I’ve come and how important inclusion is. I now have a pile of research questionnaires that I helped to design and that I will use over the next few weeks, interviewing volunteers at the Trust about their experiences. I can’t wait to get started on this and find out the impact that volunteering has had on other people who, like me, have been excluded.
I volunteer for a lot of organisations: Kaleidoscope, CAVDAS (Cardiff and Vale Drug and Alcohol Service), Cyfle Cymru, Voices Action Change, and along with my HCT Peer Researcher role I am also a Peer Mentor and Educator for the Hepatitis C Trust. Volunteering has helped me to understand what healthy relationships are and it has really built my confidence. Working in groups, discussing different issues, challenging each other, coming to agreements, all help in getting different perspectives and different points of view. It’s a big part of my recovery and it feels good to have a voice and know that my experiences can help change things for the better.
Find out more about our peer research.