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Iffat’s Story: Volunteering for better mental health

Iffat at the allotment

I started volunteering with the Children and Young People’s Project in my early 20s, whilst also using their counselling services. In around 2014, they asked if I wanted to help volunteer at the café in Levenshulme.

I’ve always struggled with my mental health. I had anxiety and then I’d slip into low mood and was eventually diagnosed with severe depression. I was living alone for the first time and experiencing lots of different anxieties.

At the time, I had a long-term eating disorder and struggled with being in a kitchen around food. I still wasn’t well whilst I was working in the cafe but I also didn’t even realize I was making great connections. Up until then, I’d been mostly on my own.

Working in the café helped me recover from my eating disorder but at the same time I was dealt another blow. I was also diagnosed with a visual impairment, which will only get worse as I age.

At 25, I couldn’t use the children and young people’s service anymore and I left for a little while to explore some other opportunities.

After leaving Manchester Mind, I realised I wanted to go back into the mental health sector, so I applied for a role at the Zion Café. I only managed around a month there before the pandemic hit.

The café had to close but the allotment had a few volunteer opportunities because bringing in the harvest was classed as essential work. I was hesitant at first because I’d never gardened or got my hands dirty before.

Initially, I just wanted the routine of going to the allotment but the more time I spent there, the more I connected with people. I was surprised with how much I connected with nature as well. I picked up new skills I enjoyed and I’m still there now, three years on.

One year after starting at the allotment I suffered a close bereavement. I didn’t want to go back to the allotment but looking back I think being in that space helped a lot with what I was going through. Just the small things like someone asking how you are and taking an interest really helps.

When you’re there the emphasis isn’t just on getting the job done. It’s also about just being in that space. The allotment gave me a positive focus and I’m not one to cry in public but I felt I could there. Everyone was really supportive.

Now I’m one of the longest-standing allotment volunteers. I see the allotment as my space. I don’t have a garden where I live at the moment, but the allotment is like a garden to me.

Back at the beginning, I could have easily stayed in deep depression but deep down I wanted to change. From where I am now, things are just getting better really.

I feel more uplifted and I know I have strength. I have the right support around me.

I’ve now taken steps to get even more involved with volunteering and have taken on a Peer Support role. I’ve only been there a few weeks but everyone has been really supportive. I just hope that my experience can help inspire someone else.

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