Can you imagine being so anxious, you became a prisoner in your own home? Seeing the fear in everything, to the extent that even a patch of ice on your doorstep is a reason not to leave the house that day? That was the case for Tom, who by the time he was 18 years old had been diagnosed with severe phobic anxiety, emetophobia, autism, and dyspraxia and despite numerous therapies and medication was seeing very little improvement in his quality of life.

“Things became even harder for Tom when he turned 18,” said his dad, Paul. “His friends all went off to university, as you do at that age, but he was left at home as he hadn’t been able to complete his A-levels – and due to the severity of his conditions, he felt totally trapped. He couldn’t even leave the house.”

As Tom struggled, Paul stepped down from a successful career as a civil servant in London; he planned to take a two-year career break to help Tom learn the skills he would need to get back out in the world again. As part of this plan, the father and son made a deal.

“I saw an opening for volunteers at Demelza’s Hythe charity shop when they reopened after the pandemic in 2021,” said Paul, “and it seemed like a golden opportunity. We could give a few hours a week of our time to a good cause, helping Demelza raise funds and keep good quality items from going to landfill, and in return Tom would begin to develop some confidence again – something he really needed.” Tom agreed that if his dad joined up with him, he would give volunteering for Demelza a go.

The team at the Hythe shop, including shop manager Lucy, welcomed the extra help with open arms. Although the pair started slow, offering two shifts in the shop every week, things snowballed quickly – and before either of them knew it, Paul was Assistant Manager of the Demelza Hythe book shop as well as a keyholder for the main shop!

Tom, meanwhile, took over the men’s clothing department under Lucy’s supervision; a project which helped him learn new skills like merchandising and quality control, as well as giving him a way to practice meeting and chatting with new people every day. Within a year, he was even confident enough to man the tills! “Tom’s anxiety and other conditions were truly debilitating before volunteering with Demelza,” said Paul. “To see him at the Hythe shop, in his element, with all these new skills, made me so proud. For my part, I have no intention of returning to my work in London – volunteering for Demelza has given me a new purpose, and I can’t imagine leaving the team we’ve got here now.”

The good news kept coming, too – Tom’s newfound confidence, as well as a raft of skills learned from his time with Demelza, meant he was recently able to land his first paid part-time job, working as a sales assistant at Sainsbury’s! “He was sick with worry, both before the interview and on his first day,” said Paul, “but we’re two months on now, and he’s absolutely loving it! He has already received a monetary voucher from his section manager for good performance, as well as feedback from the store manager about how impressed they all are with his work. None of this would have been possible without Demelza, and I’m so glad I spotted that advert when I did.”

Feeling inspired? There are plenty of studies that show volunteering can be good for your mental and even physical health – and it helps you make a positive change in your community! So, why not make the most of the new year and take a look at volunteering opportunities for Demelza near you?

Find out more about our volunteer opportunities