A chance encounter on a train led Cruse Scotland volunteer Benji Horwell on a life changing path.
Not only did he end up switching his studies and leave behind his civil engineering degree for one in psychology, his role as a bereavement counsellor has helped turn around the lives of many others. At just 23 years old, he is among Cruse Scotland’s youngest volunteers. “I was doing a civil engineering degree but I wasn’t enjoying it at all,” he recalls.
“I was catching a train home to Cornwall for summer when I started speaking to another passenger. “It was a completely random conversation. She was a personal counsellor, she told me about her work and I found it fascinating. “I spoke to her again later, and she mentioned Cruse and the work they do. “
Sadly, Benji had direct experience of loss. Cruse’s work with the bereaved, was a natural fit. “After my second year at university in Sheffield a couple of my friends were killed in a car accident. It hit me really hard,” he says. “I was 20 at the time. I heard what happened while I was travelling home, I was away from everyone else who knew my friends. In terms of talking about it, there was no one to speak to. “I didn’t have any counselling – I didn’t know about Cruse at that point. Had I known, I would have got some help.”
The experience led Benji to rethink his degree choice and to follow his passion for learning more about mental health and psychology. He is now studying psychology conversion at St Andrews University. It also prompted him to look into volunteering as a bereavement counsellor for Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland’s English sister organisation, Cruse. "I completed a course with Cruse which covered a lot of subjects that you don’t consider before you begin,” adds Benji, “such as how to deal with the death of a child or a suicide and different cultural expectations surrounding death. “I found out a lot – such as how challenging it can be for people of Muslim faith who want to bury their loved one within the first 24 hours of death, but whose relatives are abroad and can’t make the journey to pay their respects in time. “The training opened my eyes to so much.”
When Benji came to Scotland to study in autumn 2015, he quickly contacted Cruse Scotland to find out if he could join their list of around 350 volunteers. Since then Benji has helped many people going through the stress of bereavement. “I love it,” he says. “I actually look forward to seeing clients every week and I get lot of satisfaction from knowing I’m helping them. “it’s about building a rapport with someone and finding out about their lives and being able to help. “Some cases are harrowing, but the work is so rewarding that it’s not as emotionally taxing as it sounds and I can easily fit it in around my studies. “Being younger, I’ve got a good understanding of where other young people are in their lives, how bereavement affects them and why they often turn to social media to express their feelings.
“I’m due to finish my course at St Andrews soon and hope to start work, but I’ll keep volunteering as long as I can.”