Health Navigators:“Volunteering helped me start my career in a new industry and a new country”

A welcome-to-the UK course from Volunteer Centre Sutton helped Cynthia into volunteering as a Health Navigator.

Two years after arriving in Sutton from Hong Kong, Cynthia’s life has been transformed. She is now working in the NHS as a health care assistant in the borough immunisation team, thanks to a welcome-to-the-UK course from Volunteer Centre Sutton.

Cynthia emigrated to the UK in 2021. After she settled her daughter in the local primary school, she started to plan her future career. She said: “I worked full time in IT in Hong Kong, but I wanted to find a more meaningful job.

Cynthia website story 6x4“I discovered Volunteer Centre Sutton’s Integrating Sutton course and, step-by-step, I learned English through chatting to others, while making friends and finding out about the community. I had struggled for some time and was worried about getting a job, but this course gave me the confidence I needed. It has been a long journey but am now so happy to be part of the NHS.”

The bilingual course, in Cantonese and English, covers subjects including British culture, customs and conversation. Guest speakers from the NHS, Sutton Council and Citizens Advice share vital information with a focus on wellbeing, including how to access NHS services and make a GP appointment.

Cynthia heard that Volunteer Centre Sutton was recruiting volunteers to be health navigators. The initiative, launched in collaboration with NHS South West London, trains volunteers to carry out hundreds of health checks. So far 10 former Hong Kong residents, from the Integrating Sutton project have come forward.

Within a few weeks Cynthia’s confidence and communication skills had improved dramatically. She said: “Thank you to Volunteer Centre Sutton. Volunteering was the key for me to start my career in a new industry and a new country. Being able to give back to the local community while volunteering has been such a valuable experience and helped me move into my chosen career – protecting people through vaccinations, which I love.”

Around 4,000 people are estimated to have moved from Hong Kong to Sutton since 2021, when the British government created a new visa to help them settle in the UK. Volunteer Centre Sutton‘s is one of 47 national projects that received government funding.

Course leader Melody Thorpe said: “Over the past year we have supported more than 700 Hong Kongers through our six-week welcome course, as well as other programmes, and events. Our successful buddy programme continues to pair Hong Kongers with local residents to help them integrate and ask all the questions they want to ask.  

“We are always on the search for more local volunteers to get involved and become a buddy – so find out more and sign up on our website or book a volunteer advisor session for an informal chat to find out about local volunteering opportunities.”