Zelie continues to help vulnerable kids as Childline celebrates 35 years

Childline volunteer, Zelie Sheerin, remembers watching That’s Life one Sunday night many years ago and was stopped in her tracks when she heard the heart-rending story about children being abused.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 10:14 am

She decided that she had to do something to help and soon got her wish when Childline opened in Belfast and she was appointed Administration Manager in 1999.

The 65 year old, originally from Derry, is one of twelve children and after graduating from Queen’s University decided to stay in Belfast where she met her husband and then raised her four children.

She is now a grandmother of four and is still proud to be involved with Childline.

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Zelie said: “ When I heard about the children who had been abused I was really saddened but I knew I had to help. I was, therefore, so pleased when Childline opened in Belfast and I went on to get a job there.

“Most of my working life was spent in administrative and managerial roles in the voluntary and community sector, including organisations providing direct and indirect services to children and young people.

“Because of this, I felt that my skills and abilities were suited to my new role and I was excited at the prospect of being in at the start of such a worthwhile service.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of my job with Childline and especially being involved with volunteers and volunteering.

“It was apparent to me, from the outset, that the charity really valued their volunteers and that hasn’t changed after all these years.

“In my role as Administration Manager, helping to set up the new base in Waring Street in Belfast, I had to become efficient in lots of different areas from becoming familiar with complex Information Technology systems, helping to recruit staff and volunteers, assisting corporate fundraising and (very importantly) ensuring the tuck shop for the volunteers was kept fully stocked!”

Childline was taken over by NSPCC in 2006 and the base is now located in North Belfast.

Zelie particularly enjoyed Dame Esther Rantzen’s visits to the north over the years: “Dame Esther was absolutely brilliant with the volunteers and spent hours with them, listening and offering encouragement. She actually inspired me to become a volunteer too!

“I retired from my paid employment in 2013 but soon after that, I applied for a voluntary role, starting as a Switchboard Volunteer and moving on to become a Counsellor.

“I took a break at one stage due to family commitments but have been back a year now and it’s great to be part of the team again.”

Zelie enjoyed the training which was provided and recalls one especially memorable call shortly after she started her role: “The training is thorough and extremely interesting and I have found that the skills you acquire are also invaluable in your day to day life.

“The atmosphere in the base is one of calm and support and the supervisors are fantastic which takes all the worry away about ‘not being able to cope’ with a call.

“It’s also a real pleasure getting to know other volunteers and being part of a team on shift.

“One call sticks out in my mind because it was from a young person who called us regularly and this particular time she was very distressed because the staff in her care facility were insisting on washing her coat.

“Initially, she appeared to have an aggressive manner and didn’t want to engage with me but she eventually disclosed the reason that she didn’t want to have the coat washed was because it still smelled of her mother from whom she was separated.

“After a long chat, I was able to support the young person to come up with a plan where she could disclose this to a member of staff that she trusted.

“This really sums up what Childline is about and how it can make such a difference to young people in distress.

“I just feel so privileged to be able to help and I’ll never get tired of that feeling!”

Reflecting on the changing ways young people use the service, Zelie commented: “The use of online chat is a big change from the early days of Childline when young people contacted us by phone. I think in the past, the public perception was that most of our contacts were about abuse or bullying but I have noticed that many more young people are getting in touch regarding self- harm, gender-related issues and suicidal thoughts.

“During lockdown, quite a few of the calls that I dealt with were from young people really struggling with their mental health and lacking their usual support networks, whether informal or professional. Childline was often the only constant that they could rely on to be there to continue to support them.”

As Zelie reflects on the next 35 years of Childline, she concludes: “In an ideal world it would be wonderful if there was no need for Childline. Unfortunately, that seems highly unlikely so it’s important that we continue to be able to provide support.

“I am calling on anyone who would like to help children and young people and can spare some time, to consider volunteering with us.

“It’s so rewarding and there is support every step of the way. I can’t recommend it enough – it’s the best thing I ever did.”

Childline celebrates its 35th birthday on 30th October.

For more information on how to become a volunteer, or to book into an information session visit www.nspcc.org.uk/childlinevolunteer or contact [email protected]

All volunteer shifts take place in the Foyle or Belfast Childline bases.

* ‘Growing up isn’t easy – especially after the past couple of years. And no matter how strong and adaptable children are, stress can take a toll, so they shouldn’t have to cope alone. Our Childline service listens to and supports children, and is a safe space to turn to, whatever difficulties they face – big and small. Whatever life throws at them, we’re here to show children that they matter, that we understand, and they’re not alone. Whatever’s going on in the world, whatever they’re facing, we’re here for children. Children can contact Childline 24/7 on 0800 1111 or at childline.org.uk’