I first discovered how volunteering could warm your soul in 2007 when I spent a good portion of my week at the Oxfam Bookshop in Winchester, whilst trying to sort my life, health and head out a bit. And it genuinely made a massive impact on me; I felt honoured to be giving my time for free there. It wasn’t completely selfless; in that little bookshop on the aptly named Parchment Street, I made friends, found a sense of purpose, and co-invented our Sunday game: Shop Cricket (and got ‘caught out by Proust’ for the first time).
Now I’m living in London, freelancing my arse off to pay my rent (doing a job I love, though, so can’t complain too loudly) and working for free is something I hoped was consigned to my student days. But volunteering and working for free are two different things: one a social problem of glass ceilings and a devalued sector, and the other an act of giving to a society you want to be an active part of. So when I heard about Diversity Role Models, I knew I wanted to volunteer as a Role Model (hard to say without following the term with some kind of witty, self-deprecating remark, but I’ll resist).
Set up in 2011, Diversity Role Models is a charity that helps schools to eradicate homophobic bullying and provide an inclusive and safe environment for their LGBT students and families. Through high-quality, interactive workshops involving role models and discussions that allow young people to explore their views and understand difference, DRM hopes to tackle the prejudice that leads to homophobic bullying. ‘I firmly believe that by providing role models for LGBT young people, we can have a positive effect on the negative statistics’, says Suran Dickson, CEO and founder of the organisation, who was prompted to start the charity after witnessing the impact homophobic bullying had in the schools she worked in. And the statistics are shocking: LGBT youth are six times more likely to commit suicide and two thirds of them suffer bullying at school. Furthermore, as they say on their website:
‘…it’s not just LGBT young people. Straight students are terrified of being called ‘gay’. Girls drop out of sport and boys hide artistic talent to conform to gender roles and avoid being labelled gay or lesbian.’ Anyone who’s been into a school recently will know that this is an issue that affects the wellbeing of all young people, whether implicitly or explicitly.
Since its conception, DRM has delivered their workshops to over 5,000 pupils and the results speak for themselves. Over 90% of young people indicated that they would treat LGBT people better and use the word ‘gay’ as a derogatory term less in the future. Teachers and pupils that have attended the workshops have seen a significant shift in attitudes and behaviour in their schools and would urge other schools to seek their help. ‘Fabulous - should be part of the national curriculum! This workshop should be offered to all year groups’, enthused one teacher who attended a recent workshop. I know I agree. I am proud to be a Diversity Role Model. The biggest payment is knowing that you’re making a difference.
The next academic year will see DRM delivering workshops across the country, as well as continuing to work across the capital. For more information on the workshops and to enquire about booking, contact HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” \t“blank” email@example.com