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Monday Memories – Back in the Real World #4: In Reverse

I had one month’s salary in-lieu of notice. I began the weekly search of the “Situations Vacant” columns in the Yorkshire Post and Daily Telegraph, sending my CV to various companies in need of men with my skill set. Christmas came and went with no offers of employment. I contacted the mortgage company and they were sympathetic to my plight. The bank, less so, when it came to my maxed-out credit card. Freda offered to sell some of the cheap jewelry she had accumulated over the years. She got a job on the housekeeping staff of a nursing home.

My former colleague who had worked for Pertmaster contacted me to say I might be able to work for them on a casual basis training new users to use the software. I presented one such course successfully, but it meant travelling to Bradford on each of the three days of the course.

In March I was contacted by a man I had worked with when he was a member of the CEGB’s planning team at Eggborough. The privatisation of the CEGB had now been completed and he had left to set up a recruitment agency. One of the power stations operated by National Power was installing a new stores cataloguing system and needed suitably qualified individuals to verify the data being transferred from the old to the new system. It was a six month contract at a relatively low hourly rate, paid for a basic 35 hour working week, with a £1000 completion bonus.

I took the offer despite the low wage, in the belief that after 3 months I would be able to take on a summer season with the power station overhaul company. That did, indeed, happen and the longer hours more than made up for the loss of the completion bonus I would have received had I remained on the other contract.

This time the station to be worked on was at West Burton in North Nottinghamshire, a 90 minute drive from our new home.

When the job finished I let the agencies I’d previously worked with know that I was once again seeking work. This time I had a call within a week, from the agency that had got me my job at Tioxide over 3 years before. Was I available to attend an interview that day? He would like to recommend me for a vacancy he had been asked to fill at short notice. I responded in the affirmative and he rang back half an hour later to say the interview was 20 miles away at 1:30pm.

At the end of the interview I was informed that a contract launch meeting was scheduled for the following morning in Grimsby. I would need to attend, along with the director, and the project manager who had, together, conducted the interview. I later learned that the project manager had also been recruited the same day via the same agency.

A view of the suspension bridge over the Humber estuary
Having crossed the Humber bridge many times during my 4 years as a county councilor, in 1992 I began crossing it daily to work back in Grimsby. Image from Wikipedia

So it was that, having moved away from Grimsby 15 months earlier to reduce commuting time, I was now commuting daily in the opposite direction!

Meanwhile, I had made enquiries about a Talking Newspaper service for visually impaired people in the district and discovered there was none. Goole District Hospital’s broadcasting service needed volunteers, however, so it was not long before I was hosting a Friday evening “Country and Western” show and the Sunday morning request show.

Sunday mornings we also had a pre-recorded religious tape which I played whilst visiting each of the six wards in search of requests to play later. After a while hospital management introduced a policy whereby people who were not desperately ill were sent home at the weekend so that the only people present on a Sunday morning were in no fit state to make, or listen to, requests.

In the school summer holidays a small group of young people began using the Hospital Broadcasting Service’s facilities to produce a talking newspaper as a community project. It was only a temporary project, but demonstrated the need for such a service. I found out that the mother of one of the boys was the local social worker with responsibility for the welfare of visually impaired people. I contacted her about setting up a permanent service, telling her of my experience. She put me in touch with a small group of friends and relatives of blind people in the district. This group were the core of the local branch of the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind).

Recently the RNIB had changed its policy, insisting that funds raised locally could no longer be spent locally but must be remitted to HQ. Branches were then supposed to request funds for specific projects. It makes a certain kind of sense, ensuring that funds raised in the more affluent districts are distributed to poorer areas. The local group in Goole were not happy at this policy change and welcomed the opportunity to support, instead, a new service for local blind people.

We had our committee, we could use the Hospital Radio studio – at least for the time being. All we needed was funds to purchase some tapes and recording equipment. Once again I undertook a sponsored walk – this time from Snaith to Howden, dressed as an emu!

I also contacted the CVS (Council for Voluntary Service) for advice and help. Before long I found myself seconded to the CVS management committee and appointed as treasurer.

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Goodbye to the Seventies Part 2

Of course, it soon became clear that the job would take longer than six months – there were at least six lines to do, at three months each that meant the project would last at least a year and a half.

It also meant, of course, that I was away from home from Monday morning to Friday evening. I had the use of a car from the company pool and my accommodation in Grimsby was paid for by the Courtelle Division who also paid Courtaulds Engineering for my services. I discussed with my ex-colleague the possibility of my becoming a permanent member of his team and he agreed that it would make sense, but for some reason I never fully understood, the divisional board considered the possibility on a number of occasions over the succeeding months but it was fully one year before they finally said “yes”.


Cleethorpes Pier in the background from Dolphin gardens
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Steve Farehamgeograph.org.uk/p/3888454

My lodgings were in a small boarding house on one of the short streets running back from the promenade in Cleethorpes. Run by a Scottish former sub-mariner and his wife there was a clientele that mostly consisted of company representatives who made visits to the area on a fairly frequent basis and I got to know them all. There was also, for a while, a chap who was in the same position as me; from Newcastle, he had been appointed manager of the local branch of Lucas vehicle electrical equipment and needed to stay in the boarding house until he found, and completed the purchase of, a house in the area. We’d often stay up until quite late after dinner playing darts and “chewing the fat” with these men and the proprietor’s Scottish friend who was the PR Officer for the local council.

A full English breakfast every morning (very similar to a “full Irish”), two courses for lunch in the staff canteen (staff were separated from shift workers!), and two further courses for dinner back at the digs, washed down with two or three pints of beer, saw my weight climb from 10 stone to 11 stone for the first and only time in my life. I took note of this and cut back on some of the meals and the booze.

I also spent some evenings taking long walks on the beach south of Cleethorpes. There were miles of mud flats exposed by low tide. I remember one occasion when I had walked a long way towards the sea and suddenly realised I was looking up at the horizon and the string of container ships and tankers awaiting the tide before entry to Hull, Immingham or Grimsby ports. That is certainly how it seemed. It was definitely a disconcerting feeling and I quickly turned round and walked back! I can fully understand now how people get caught out by fast incoming tides in similar situations.

In the summer of 1978 I booked us into a chalet in the nearby holiday camp for two weeks so that Freda and Ian could have a taste of Cleethorpes. Back in Coventry at weekends I helped out with the collection of old newspapers for recycling as part of the local Scouts’ fund raising as well as continuing my voluntary work with the Community Broadcasting Service. Ian joined the cast of the Gang Show. I’ve written elsewhere about the snow that made it difficult – but not impossible – for me to get back to Coventry to see the show in March of 1979.

In May of 1979 the company finally made me an offer of permanent employment at Grimsby. They would continue to pay the boarding house costs for three months. As I was no longer working for Courtaulds Engineering I had to return their car and purchase one of my own. The salary I was offered was considerably more than I had been getting and there was a lump sum allowance to help with the cost of moving.

A Renault 10 like the one I purchased in the summer of 1979. Image found at https://barnfinds.com

We found a house in the centre of Cleethorpes, a narrow Edwardian terrace that had been constructed with four bedrooms upstairs and four rooms downstairs. The two back bedrooms had been knocked together and the bathroom made larger. Downstairs the door connecting the first two rooms had been taken out and replaced with an archway. Beyond that was a small dining room and a good sized kitchen. It would be our home for the next nine years.

We arranged the move for the middle weekend of Ian’s two week camp in the New Forest with his Coventry scout group. We learned later that he had asked his best friend’s mother if he could stay with them after his mother and I moved to Cleethorpes!

Marlborough, Wiltshire, Englnd. Image copyright © of Barry Samuels

We drove down to Bournemouth on the last weekend of the camp to bring him back with us – the whole group had traveled down from Coventry by mini-bus and were returning in the same way. I had purchased a car from Freda’s brother – a white, rear engined, Renault 10. Although I’d driven it between Coventry and Cleethorpes several times by then, I had never before taken a short break during a long journey, setting out to continue before the engine had properly cooled.

We stopped for a food break in Marlborough, parking near the town’s Market Square. When I turned the key in the ignition on our return to the car the engine emitted a loud report and a puff of smoke. After the initial shock, and having checked that everything looked okay in the engine compartment, I turned the key again and the car started as normal. We learned that this was a “standard feature” of the car and sometimes took pleasure in watching people’s reactions whenever it happened.

Monday Memories – The Eager Volunteer

One day in November 1976 I got a message summoning me to Coventry for a meeting with the Technical Director. Frank, the Site Engineer, he told me, had angina and was not permitted on site. It was now up to me to take on the Site Engineer role. This announcement was followed by a memorable conversation in which my request for an increase in pay, to match the increased responsibility, drew a response to the effect that I was paid according to what I was capable of doing, not what I actually was doing – and, of course, he would not have asked me to do this job if he did not believe I was capable of doing it!

Construction, installation and commissioning continued throughout 1977. There were many problems with getting the pipework within the plant to fit together properly. The detail design of the pipework had been carried out by the Dutch company but we had many arguments about responsibility for work that had to be re-done on site. Was the error due to the contractor not following the Dutch company’s drawings? Were the drawings wrong? Had the piece of plant to which the pipe was supposed to connect been installed correctly? Between Frank, the pipework foreman and myself, we had many altercations as I decided whether or not I could sign off on extra expenditure, often dozens of such adjudications each day.

I was also responsible for site safety, implementing the new regime introduced by the Health and Safety at Work Act that resulted directly from an industrial disaster that happened in Lincolnshire whilst I was in South Africa.

The iconic image from the original video that accompanied the first release of Bohemian Rhapsody

I had acquired the habit of taking a beer or two with my lunch, originally in Coventry with colleagues. I remember it was one lunch time in that Coventry pub in 1975 that I first heard an amazing piece of music: beginning with something that sounded like an operatic aria then segueing into heavy rock and back again, it was much longer – and very different – to most of the material on the juke box. I had to know what it was called and who it was by. Bohemian Rhapsody, and all of the subsequent output from the band Queen, have remained favourites ever since.

Working alone in Derby I did not bother with lunch time drinking, for one thing the pub was too far away from my work site. After I was joined by an assistant, as the construction work progressed, we went to the pub together every lunch time. Thus it happened that one afternoon we were surprised by an unannounced visit from a government Health and Safety Officer who asked me to conduct him around the site where he was able to observe various, in his view, unsafe practices. Back in the office he berated me for my lack of attention to such matters, no doubt noticing the smell of my breath. Not an experience I want to repeat.

I should probably add that the new ethylene manufacturing facility at Derby never did produce much ethylene. Whilst we were installing our small plant, BP were installing a much bigger unit at their Hull site. Once that was up and running it became cheaper to buy ethylene from them than to operate our own plant.

Meanwhile I increasingly wanted to involve myself in the community as a volunteer. Ian had joined the scouts and I participated in various fund raising activities for them, notably the collection of bundles of old newspapers from the front doorsteps of homes in the neighbourhood. This was undertaken on Saturday mornings once a month, the bundles stacked in a shed at the back of the scout hut until sufficient had accumulated to make a load for the recycling company that paid a good price.

I applied to join the suicide counseling service, Samaritans, but was rejected after completing a psychometric test. Then I read about a new organisation, just starting up in Coventry, that intended to produce a talking newspaper for visually impaired people and a video magazine to be distributed to nursing homes and day centres. That seemed to be just right for me and so it proved to be. Soon I was writing scripts for mini-documentaries, operating a simple black and white video camera and reading aloud my own scripted voice-overs. I was also elected treasurer for the organisation.

The Spinners – Image from Wikipedia

I produced a short film about the Coventry fire station and its personnel; another about the refuse incinerator that provided hot water to the adjacent automobile factory. We filmed at events like the Royal Agricultural Show, held just a few miles from Coventry and where I recall operating the camera whilst a fellow volunteer interviewed the Liverpool based folk group “The Spinners” and (separately) Animal impressionist Percy Edwards. We also videoed school end of term theatrical productions. And we videoed a monthly news report as well as the audio ‘talking newspaper’ which was distributed by post on cassette tapes.

But that all came to an abrupt end early in 1978 when I began commuting, not to Derby, but to Grimsby, in a career move that would prove to be life changing.

How Volunteers Respond to Disasters #WATWB

watwic-bright-tuqblkThis month I’m linking to a post from a blogger in her seventies who participates in a voluntary project rebuilding homes for people who lost everything as a consequence of wild fires. I’m also linking to regional newspaper coverage of the project.

https://shatara46.wordpress.com/2018/08/18/williams-lake-volunteer-project-update/

https://www.wltribune.com/news/mennonite-volunteers-help-wildfire-victims-rebuild-homes/

It is heartening to know that there are people of all ages and all religions (and none) working to help people whose lives have been devastated by natural disasters. With that in mind, I think it worth pointing out that Irish men and women have been helping in Haiti since the earthquake there several years ago whilst others make annual trips to South Africa to build homes and schools for families in that country’s poorest townships.

Have you got a good news story to share with the world? Here’s how to join in:

1. Keep your post to Below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. Link to a human news story on your blog, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Paste in an excerpt and tell us why it touched you. The Link is important, because it actually makes us look through news to find the positive ones to post.

3. No story is too big or small, as long as it Goes Beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

Place the WE ARE THE WORLD badge or banner on your Post and your Sidebar. Some of you have already done so, this is just a gentle reminder for the others.

5. Help us spread the word on social media. Feel free to tweet, share using the #WATWB hashtag to help us trend!

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Simon Falk, Andrea Michaels, Shilpa Garg, Sylvia Stein, Belinda Witzenhausen.

Life Changing Events

A few days ago Stevie Turner posted on this subject, taking her cue from an earlier post by Colline Kook-Chun. It inspired me to think about some of the events that influenced the direction my life has taken.

reunion-of-giants

  1. My father’s death in action in 1943. Had he survived the war, who knows what my life would have been like? I would probably have been brought up as a Londoner, since both parents were from there. I certainly would not have gone, at age 10¾ to a boarding school established for boys who had lost one or both parents. The school still exists, although the majority of pupils these days pay expensive fees. I shall be back there later this year celebrating 60 years since I left. Thanks to modern technology, many of my contemporaries communicate regularly with each other despite being scattered in different parts of the world.
  2. Meeting my wife in the summer of 1961. I was 19, she 16. I proposed in the early hours of December 27th, as I walked her home from the Boxing Night dance. We kept our engagement secret until her 17th birthday in June 1962 and were married in September 1963.
  3. Discovering, in the spring of 1965 as we moved into our first new house, that she was pregnant. We had not planned to start a family quite so soon but our son brought a new phase in our lives as a family unit and, as you will discover below, led to us coming to live in Ireland.
  4. Joining the staff at the Engineering HQ of a large corporation in the summer of 1968. That took me to South Africa and eventually to East Lincolnshire. Altogether I worked for over 18 years for that corporation and the pension I paid into now provides about 1/3rd of my annual income. It also led to:
  5. Being elected to Humberside County Council in May 1985. I was one of 4 Liberals elected that year. The other two parties had 35 and 36 members so we held the ‘balance of power’, able to veto any proposal from either of the other parties. I like to think we used this power wisely. It was certainly extremely time consuming because, in order to do the job, we had to be represented on every committee, sub-committee and working party.

    humber-bridge

    The Humber Bridge. Image via Scunthorpe Telegraph

    My employer was extraordinarily generous with allowing me time off to do this, but after a year and a half I was offered the choice: cut down on your council activities or take redundancy. The redundancy offer was generous and I accepted, having visions of a new career as a writer and politician. After working, unpaid, for the party in the run-up to the 1987 General Election I needed to find some alternative source of income which takes us to:

  6. Our shop. We decided that, since Freda had worked all of her life in shops, latterly as manager of a charity shop, we should set up our own shop. I would look after the administration whilst she worked ‘front of house’. I researched the market and decided that Cleeethorpes could benefit from having a quality glass, china and giftware outlet. A unit was available in a building belonging to a kitchen design specialist who had his show-room upstairs. This seemed like an excellent fit. I talked to potential suppliers, put together a business plan and everything looked promising until the building went on sale. The owner’s plan to increase his income by creating and letting units had not worked out. Any thought that the new owner might still be interested in having us as a tenant was dashed when planning permission to open a fast food outlet was applied for.

    The next premises we looked at meant a complete change of plan. It was a moderately successful food retailer. The owner, a chef, prepared a range of chilled ready-meals in a kitchen at the back which he sold in the shop, alongside the usual deli-type goods and speciality foods. His recipes had been so successful that he had taken a small factory unit in Grimsby and wanted someone to take on the retail business, with him continuing to supply the popular ready meals. We opened in September and did great business in the run up to Christmas. Then the chef lost a big contract and had to close the unit so we lost our main supplier. We struggled on for the next few months but the risk involved in food retailing is enormous and we just could not compete with the supermarkets who were starting to develop their own deli counters and chilled ready meals.

    I got a part-time job writing business profiles for a regional business magazine but in the May 1989 election I lost my council seat and returned to my original career as an Engineer.

  7. Our son’s marriage in 1993. His wife is Irish and in due course they moved to Dublin with their daughter. So, when considering retirement options in 2006, moving to Ireland to be near them was a ‘no brainer’. More than eleven years on we are still here, enjoying life in a small Irish country town where we have met many new friends, some through the writing group to which I belong, and some through the support centre for people touched by cancer where we both volunteer.

At the end of Stevie’s post are two questions, originally posed by Colline. Here they are, with my answers:

  1. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s… a Ryanair jet bringing home the owner of the Grand National winning horse and offering free drinks to all the passengers
  2. What music do you like: Jazz, Folk, Rock, Blues, Broadway/West End Musical scores.

Thanks, Colline and Stevie, for the inspiration. I wonder how many of my followers will be tempted to follow suit?

Volunteering in Later Life: #atozchallenge

Many people who have retired from full time employment find renewed fulfillment by volunteering their time and skills to organisations working to improve their local communities. Everything from running a “meals on wheels” service to maintaining flower beds in your local shopping centre can be done by volunteers.

Retirement Worries

Are you approaching retirement and wondering how to fill your time? Or maybe you are retired already and starting to suffer from “cabin fever”. Have you considered volunteering? There are lots of organisations that involve people like you providing services for others. Some of them are near you.

What do volunteers do?

Maybe you want to let people benefit from the specialist skills you developed over a long career in a profession. Many organisations need legal or financial advice, for example. Most have volunteer management committees for whom such administrative skills are vital.

Perhaps you could teach art or craft to people with a disability, or computer skills to people in your own age group who have yet to discover the magic of internet communications. Assuming you are still able bodied, you might consider helping people much older than yourself with simple “DIY” tasks like basic plumbing, gardening or decorating.

Do you see retirement as an opportunity to do something completely different? You could decide that, after years of sitting behind a desk or computer screen, you would like to work outdoors. Your local “Tidy Towns” or “Britain in Bloom” group will welcome you as a part-time gardener.

These are just a few examples. The truth is that whatever you fancy doing, the chances are there’s an organisation near you that needs it doing!

How much will I have to do?

None of these organisations will ask you to do more than you are willing to do. Most will provide support and training. What they will expect in return is a commitment to turn up at the agreed time, with the agreed frequency, and to provide as much notice as possible if you can’t. Always remember that other people – often vulnerable people – are dependent upon you. So commitment is the important thing, not the amount of time you put in. Whether you’ve agreed to do 2 hours or 10, weekly or monthly, you must be prepared to stick to that.

What will I get out of it?

By its very nature, volunteering does not offer financial rewards. For retired people, it’s much more about continuing to feel useful after the world of work has dispensed with your services. Volunteers, and the work they do, are highly thought of in their communities. You will meet new people with a shared interest and enjoy a reinvigorated social life. And although you won’t be paid, you shouldn’t be out of pocket as most organisations will refund expenses necessarily incurred whilst volunteering for them.

How do I find an organisation that involves volunteers?

Within the United Kingdom voluntary activities are co-ordinated by separate agencies covering each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, Volunteer Centres Ireland maintains a database of organisations and helps with recruitment, selection and training.

It’s a good idea to buy and read your local newspaper. Such publications often print stories about voluntary and community groups in their area. And the groups use such opportunities to appeal for new volunteers. Parish magazines also often list contact details of the voluntary groups working in and around their district.

What restrictions are there?

Anyone who plans to work with vulnerable people – and that includes the very young and the elderly – will need to undergo a DBS check (the new name for a criminal record check in the UK) or Garda vetting (RoI). All of the standard health and safety rules that apply to paid staff also apply to volunteers. You can expect to be provided with training to enable you to recognise, and deal with, any such risks that may be encountered.

Talking of risks, the biggest risk you are likely to face in retirement is boredom. So why not go for it? Volunteer today. You won’t regret it. If you are already a volunteer please share your experience in the comments.

Strides for Life: #atozchallenge

I started volunteering at my local cancer support centre about 6 years ago. The centre has a large garden and I spend 3 or 4 hours each week assisting with its maintenance. A couple of years ago I was asked if I’d like to become involved in the Strides for Life programme. I readily agreed.

A group of people participating in Strides for Life Photo from Irish Cancer Society.

The programme was devised by Marie Murphy, in conjunction with the Irish Cancer Society. Marie is a former Irish Olympic athlete who lived and worked for many years in California. She spent 14 years working with breast cancer researcher and author, Dr Susan Love, researching the beneficial effects of exercise for breast cancer patients. During the training she provided for those of us assigned to deliver the programme in Ireland, she related many inspirational stories about patients with whom she had worked. It was in the course of this work that she and Dr Love were able to demonstrate that the rate of recurrence of cancer among patients who adopted a structured programme of exercise is much less than in those who shun exercise.

At the Cuisle centre we provide the fifteen week Strides for Life programme twice each year: February – May and August – December. The group meets weekly. The first week participants are timed walking 1 mile. This provides a measure of their current state of fitness from which they are assigned an appropriate exercise programme. During the following week participants are expected to walk for 15 or 20 minutes on alternate days.

At the start of each of the next 4 weeks the group walks together for 30 or 45 minutes. Because some participants will be able to walk much further than others during this time, we ensure there are 2-3 people accompanying them. This is my role, along with maintaining the necessary records. Week five is a timed mile once again, to assess improved fitness and assign a new programme. The five week cycle is repeated a second time, making up the fifteen week total.

Alongside the exercise there is good conversation and participants certainly appreciate the companionship established over the fifteen weeks. Some friendships established on the programme continue after the programme is complete. Some participants take part in two successive programmes.

Strides for Life is one of several services provided by the centre to support cancer patients and their families as they come to terms with their diagnosis. Check out the centre’s website for more.

S is also for ‘Stronger than Yesterday: Living your Life Beyond Adversity’. It also stands for surviving which is what the book is about. Surviving is also the aim of the Strides for Life programme and everything else that happens at the centre. There is no charge for the services of the centre which receives no state funding. It is financed entirely from voluntary donations and fund-raising events.

Use the comments below to tell me about a voluntary or community service with which you are involved.