We’re proud to have been asked to be the West London hosts for a London Lifelines filming day on Wednesday 2 November. We’re looking forward to welcoming people from Kensington & Chelsea, as well as other parts of West London, to share their volunteering stories with us and with people across the capital. We’d love to see you if you give your time, or have done in the past, and if you enable others to volunteer we hope you’ll encourage them to come along, or to submit their story via another route.
As I’m sure we’ll hear during the filming, people give their time to help others for lots of reasons. I started out at my local Citizens Advice Bureau in Cardiff, but only because I was rejected by the young people’s organisation I applied to first! I was 23, supposed to be finishing a post-graduate degree, and completely stuck – faced with the blank page I felt under so much pressure to come up with original ideas that I froze. I wondered if learning to do something practical might help me, especially if I could make a difference at the same time. I was feeling a bit useless and it took me a while to get up the courage to knock on the door of the charity. When I did, they made it clear that their focus was on my immediate potential as part of a small organisation’s workforce. When they decided I wasn’t what they were looking for, they suggested, kindly, that I try across the street, and I got very lucky: the CAB was run by Annie and Angela, two of the best people I have ever met – principled, straightforward, dedicated and prepared to invest in anyone who was prepared to work hard in the collective interest.
I learnt so much about myself, other people, working in a team, and how the law and public policy both protects and abuses ordinary people. I was given training and advice I still use every day – how to listen and hear what someone’s presenting problem is, but also what other issues are sitting behind that initial one; how to respect the barriers they might face and the biases I have in responding to them; how to empower them to solve their problems rather than simply advising them; and how important it is to make a contribution to fixing the system rather than seeing each client’s issues in isolation.
I was able to spend three years volunteering because at that time, as a white, middle-class graduate, when I signed on at the Job Centre and told them I was still volunteering at the CAB and trying to finish my Masters, they were willing and able to let me. I could volunteer because I could pay my bills, and I wasn’t faced with the other barriers that some of my peers were – caring responsibilities, poor health, discrimination, and many others. I was able to give my time, learn and grow, in a place where those barriers were understood, talked about, and challenged – where adjustments were made to enable our team to reflect, and include, the people we served.
People are amazing. Everyone has qualities and experiences that are just what are needed to make the world better for others, qualities and experiences developed in adversity, struggling to overcome high barriers and difficult circumstances, or via easier routes. The Volunteer Centre is here whether you’re trying to work out where your time, skills and knowledge fit, or you’re an organisation trying to deliver for the community and to reflect the people you serve. Come and see us, give us a call, or drop us a line – it’s never a bad time to take that first step.
Michael Ashe, CEO