Thursday, November 20, 2014

Time to spare

George Owen my paternal grandfather was a fascinating man.  I know very little about him but his influence on my life is visible.

When he retired from being a Mental Health Nurse he started a volunteer job and then set up a whole project run by volunteers.  Long before community transport was a thing and before health and safety and insurance curtailed such things he had a 'gang' of retired gentleman with CB Radios* in their homes and cars.  People who wanted a lift to the hospital, day centre or the shops would ring my Nana and her or one of us grandchildren would get on the CB and put a call out.

As an aside Mr P now works two days a week doing exactly the same job - the only difference is these days it's managed by the council - although I gather a CB Radio and a bunch of kids could possibly improve things!

That was my very first experience of being a volunteer and it kindled a life long commitment to volunteering.  So after the CB apprenticeship I did shifts at the local hospital shop with my Nana.  When I was 13 I volunteered at the local swimming baths in the changing rooms.  You were given a strange hanging basket to put your shoes and clothes in.  You handed that in to the volunteer attendant and were given a rubber bracelet with a number on it so you could collect your belonging after your swim.

My next significant volunteer role was as Hospital Radio DJ at Harrogate Hospital Radio.  That was 23 years ago and it's where I met Mr P who was also volunteering.  My fondest memory of that time was the day after Calum was born.  Mr P went to do his radio show while all the mums and Midwives on the ward gathered round to listen. He opened his show with a touching tribute to the Midwives and his newborn son and then played Moon on your pyjamas by Paul Weller.   It still makes me cry to think of it.

Since then I've had three roles - I worked at a shelter for the homeless in London, was an LEA school governor in Birmingham and for the past 10 years my volunteer work has been an overspill from my NCT role as an antenatal teacher.

I mention all of this not to say 'look how wonderful I am' but to share something that is part of who I am, who my family were and are and to share part of my approach to life - to serve.  It's an uncomfortable concept, at least it is for me.   I am not servile by nature or inclincation.  But it's an important part of my approach to life.

I see it as a tithe, except instead of money to a government or religious organisation I am tithing my time.  My commitment for 2015 is to volunteer one day a week (excluding NCT overspill).  Yesterday I picked up a shift at the local Oxfam shop.  On Friday mornings I will be upstairs in the boutique and craft corner, where I have been actively encouraged to knit and sew and teach customers crafting skills - what a perfect role for me. 

"....Without volunteers many of the statutory services would be overwhelmed.  Voluntary work gives the sense of being able to give something - whether in time, money or expertise - and that is precious to the person doing the giving.  The feeling of having contributed, the satisfaction of a job lovingly done, is the reward.  We should not regard voluntary work as of less value because it is unpaid and the rewards intangible, nor should we exploit the goodwill of volunteers...."
QfP 23.64

* This was the 70s and strictly speaking CB Radios weren't entirely legal - that happened in 1981.


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