VOLUNTEERING has changed Tracy Cooper’s life.

She enjoys her role helping with administration at New Start, a service providing supported accommodation for ex-offenders, run by Bradford-based Horton Housing.

Tracy first came into contact with the organisation when she joined a programme to help her overcome alcohol addiction.

“I started with HARP (Horton Addiction Recovery Programme) as a client, as I had been a binge drinker,” she explains. “I began in an art and crafts group. I got clean after that, then went to a life coaching group, and it was here that I realised my goal was to be a volunteer, to give back what they did for me.”

Tracy began volunteering at Horton Housing Training Centre in Eldon Place, Bradford, and has not looked back. “I’ve also done courses at Northern College (in Barnsley) taking a support worker level 2 course. It was great because I didn’t have GCSEs. I also did a course at Leeds Beckett University - I never thought I would do something like this.”

As well as volunteering at New Start, she now runs the art group that she once attended as a client.

“What Horton has given me I would like to give back,” she says. “When I first got in contact with them I had mental health problems. I was going to commit suicide - they saved my life. It’s fantastic, like a big family.”

Tracy has made lots of friends and met many new people. “I had nervous breakdowns and cut everyone off I knew at that time. Horton is a family to me.”

Horton Housing developed out of the Bradford Day Shelter, a homeless charity established in 1976. It addresses the needs of those who have difficulty accessing statutory services, in particular people with drug and alcohol problems, those who are homeless and/or rough sleepers, people with mental health problems, refugees, travellers and young parents.

They provide housing, support and training for a wide range of clients.

The organisation currently has 99 volunteers helping on more than 30 schemes across Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees. Last year 21 volunteers went on to paid employment and five began courses at college or university.

Volunteer coordinator Esther Douglas says: “The volunteers help in various areas including befriending, as classroom assistants, at job clubs and as interpreters. They also help with administration, to make food at our hostels, and help the young people we work with.”

They are, she says, invaluable. “They bring a wealth of knowledge. Many have lived through experiences which helps them to support others.

This week is Volunteers Week, in which the UK celebrates volunteers and says thank you to them for the contribution that they make. The week also raises awareness about the benefits becoming a volunteer and the diverse volunteering roles that are available.

Volunteers at Horton Housing are aged between 18 and the mid-60s, giving as much time as they can spare.

Like Tracy, Helen Goudie was a client at Horton Housing before signing up to volunteer. She was introduced to volunteering by her support worker and now works two days a week at the training centre in reception and administration.

“It gets me up and out. I am a people person and I meet a lot of people doing this,” she says.

“I had had problems with past relationships and alcohol. Volunteering has built my confidence and self-esteem.”

She is keen to find a job and has been helped by sessions delivered by Skipton Building Society, in conjunction with Horton Housing, to help with job application skills and also to build self-esteem. “I don’t want to be on benefits forever - the sessions helped me believe that I can get a job.”

Helen attended taster sessions in nursing, psychology, sociology and other subjects at Leeds Beckett University. “I learnt a bit from them all. I never thought I would be allowed through the doors of a university,” she says.

Helen has met many new people, and, like Tracy, she likens her colleagues and friends at Horton Housing to family.

“I would recommend volunteering. I am doing something for myself and I am trying.”

Corporate volunteering roles are also available at Horton Housing, and students can also sign up to lend a hand and gain experience.

Tracy’s long-term goal is to eventually work for Horton, “but I’m happy to still be a volunteer. It gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s helped my mental illness and built my confidence a lot. I’m going back to Northern College in July to study criminology.

“I would definitely recommend volunteering to other people and getting involved with Horton Housing. It’s rewarding because you have the backup help if you need it. Everyone is happy to help each other.”

For more information visit hortonhousing.co.uk, email: volunteer.applications@hortonhousing.co.uk or contact them on 01274 753352.