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25 years of LionHeart

Bena 25 blog

I sometimes feel a bit embarrassed when I tell people how long I've been working at LionHeart (recently marking a whole quarter of a century with the organisation!), in case it implies to people who don't know me that I have no ambition or am just 'content with my lot'.

In fact, the very opposite is true.

Volunteering or 'giving back' has been part of my life ever since I was a teenager. Aged 18, I volunteered for Help the Aged as a support to those living on their own, doing weekly visits or shopping for them. In my time I've been a Childline volunteer, a Samaritan, volunteered as a child bereavement counsellor at a hospital and worked for a charity that worked with bereaved children.

What I loved about all of these roles is the difference that you can make by giving some of your time to one person. Which brings me to why I love doing the work I do at LionHeart with such a passion.

No matter what changes happen at LionHeart - and there have been many during my 25 years here - the one consistent thing is the help my team and I can give to those in need.

Like all charities and organisations, we have processes and guidelines that need to be followed. But over the years I've learnt that by making time to sit and talk to someone who is going through a hard time is invaluable. No matter how LionHeart has grown and the different services we've developed over the years, the sheer fact that we look at each case individually and tailor our services for them is vital to what we do.

It's a bit like volunteering at the Samaritans. The phone rings and you know that the person calling needs help in some way or other. But the beauty of it is that each case is treated on a 1:1 basis.

'Surveyors will never take up counselling...'

People can have similar experiences in life; we've all probably lost a loved one, but my experience of that loss will be unique to me. How I handle a relationship breakdown will be different to how you handle yours. That doesn't make my experiences more important or yours less important, but we all experience life differently.

I first started my counselling training some 20-odd years ago, back in the days when people didn't really take it seriously or talk about it much.

I have a vivid memory at the time of an RICS professional telling me that if I were to offer it at LionHeart no-one would ever come forward to accept it. I was told I was working with mainly middle class white professional males who wouldn't open up and share their difficulties with anyone and I was flogging a dead horse!

What they didn't know was that the people who were calling LionHeart even back then found it a huge relief to be dropping their façade and confiding in someone, even if they did find it difficult to express their feelings.

We found we had weekly telephone sessions booked in for precisely the stereotypical chartered surveyor who really did want to talk about the bullying and harassment he felt in the workplace. Or the professional who was too worried to let his colleagues discover he was gay. Or the female chartered surveyor who was tired from competing in what was then very much a man's world.

These days, in fact, counselling has become one of our most requested services; most recently we have also been very happy to extend that offer to children of RICS professionals in the UK, and have also streamlined our processes for being able to offer counselling outside the UK in the client's preferred language.

'Over the years, I've cried with people but also celebrated their successes'

We can help our professionals in so many ways and that is something that hasn't changed with time. Doing this job means we can do pretty much anything and everything to help someone who is struggling. Some people only need that first phone conversation to help while others need much more support.

Some people come to us in crisis but more and more we find people calling before they get to that point, which is great because it means we can hopefully step in and make a difference as early as possible.

Over the years, I've cried with some of the people we've helped but I've also celebrated with others as they turn a corner and reach their success.

Two things I hear often is, "I wish I'd called you sooner" and "the support you've given has been amazing, I wish more people knew!"

We do work really hard at doing this and try our best to reach as many RICS professionals wherever they are. We don't want to be the profession's best kept secret - we want members to know who we are, what we do and to recommend us to their colleagues. Fortunately for us, these days, people seem much more ready to share their experiences - there is less stigma it seems for someone to say, I was struggling but these people helped me get back on my feet, and that is another of the big changes I have seen over the years.

I'm just so proud of my support team and the wider staff team at LionHeart. We're in the business of helping; it can be humbling yet so rewarding when someone tells you they don't know what they would have done without your support.

As hard as it can be sometimes, knowing you've made a difference in someone's life makes it worthwhile.

Every single day, every single person helped, is different - and that's how you end up working at one place for 25 years...


Bena Kansara is support services manager at LionHeart, overseeing the team of support officers and counsellors and managing the helpline for RICS professionals. She recently marked 25 years with the charity.

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