Jill Hoggans finding purpose through volunteering

“I got my life back. I feel lighter, with a spring in my step. I’m living again. And I hope that, in a tiny way, I might be helping to make my community a better place.”

Jill Hoggans is probably being too modest about what she has done for Southmead in the year or so since she started volunteering on Quartet-linked projects on this estate on the northern edge of Bristol.

But she’s right about the magic of volunteering: you help others to help themselves – and in the meantime discover that you’ve helped yourself to find a refreshed sense of purpose. Everyone wins.

Jill Hoggans, Southmead resident and volunteer
Jill Hoggans, Southmead resident and volunteer

Jill’s story, which she relates over a cup of coffee at the Greenway Centre in Southmead, is one of transformation, and a typical one amongst those involved in the community-building that is at the heart of Quartet’s work.

She has spent all of her 61 years in Southmead and always had a sense that she wanted to contribute more, but life took over – raising three children, holding down a demanding job, running a house.

Then life played one of its cruel tricks. Jill’s partner became ill, then disabled; and at work Jill increasingly felt bullied and sidelined. At around the same time her world just fell apart – her partner died, and Jill lost her job.

Jill is a fighter, and did what anyone would do – get back on her feet, applied for new jobs, and tried to start all over again. However, as she explains: “I was 60 and still had lots to offer but felt completely squashed and drained. I was applying for jobs I didn’t want and I was in tears when I did it. I had no self-worth; nobody was interested in me.”

“I was 60 and still had lots to offer but felt completely squashed and drained. I was applying for jobs I didn’t want and I was in tears when I did it."

-Jill Hoggans Southmead resident and community volunteer

At the back of her mind were memories of growing up in Southmead, and having lost touch with the place despite having stayed there her entire life.

So she stopped looking for more jobs, rented out a room in her house to get some money in, and started to think the unthinkable – working for nothing.

It can be tricky knowing where to start with voluntary community work. Jill says she always wanted to contribute to the community but didn’t know how, and finding a suitable role took a while.

“In the end I sort of fell into it,” said Jill. “I started by going to a couple of meetings about the community plan, which was drawn up without any anticipation of applying for funds from Quartet.

“Then there was some funding from Quartet, and I started to get involved in decisions about how it should best be spent. For example I’m part of a group that meets in a local church, and we look at applications for grants, try to allocate money, follow it up and review what difference it makes.”

Jill has taken on other roles, ranging from hands-on help such as doing a bit of washing up, to other work around spending decisions.

The ‘work’ plays to particular skills in Jill’s professional background, but the outcomes of it are there in front of her on the streets she calls home. She talks fondly of how other volunteers give their time to projects around Southmead, adding value by helping others.

There’s the hiring of a youth worker, and of a volunteer coordinator to galvanise goodwill amongst the residents. There’s the boxing club, a baking group, and more – some set up with help via Quartet – and in the end it’s the local community that gets them up and running.

For Jill it’s been both a revelation and a transformation. “All my training and skills started to come into play again. I’d hit rock bottom and didn’t know what to do with my life. Now I feel as if I have a role again, and I’m learning every day. I’m with people who want what I want.”

Southmead Fourteen project gets a visit from High Sheriff Helen Wilde in March 2016

"Now I feel as if I have a role again, and I’m learning every day. I’m with people who want what I want.”

-Jill Hoggans Southmead resident and community volunteer

Being a volunteer, says Jill, is about finding ways to help people help themselves and before you know it you’ve helped yourself too.

Quartet’s role is to help make that happen with finely targeted financial help, always driven by those in the community – like Jill – who know what will really make a difference.

And those differences include some that could never be anticipated, as Jill explains.

“I was never involved in anything here” she says, pausing to nod at some Centre users, most of whom seem to know her. “But now I know so much more about Southmead and I’m proud of the place. I can say ‘Hi, I’m Jill, I’m a resident’; and that feels really good.”

You can read our other #thirtylives stories here and watch the film we made to celebrate our anniversary on Youtube.

With thanks to Rob Campbell, journalist, who kindly authored this piece for us. You can follow him on Twitter @rob15959