Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland
By our Anonymous Blogger
I recently had a very interesting meeting with a young woman who has an extremely active and interesting life. Although she now works full time, Anna has been a volunteer on various projects over the years, and like many others could be seen as a ‘serial volunteer’.
Anna currently volunteers for several projects: The ORCA Project and North East Cetacean Project (NECP) looking out for whales and dolphins; British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR); and the Royal Society Protection of Birds (RSPB). All have given her experiences that Anna believes have helped her gain her current full time employment as a Volunteering Coordinator.
One of Anna’s early volunteering opportunities opened up a new and quite different interest for her. It happened quite by chance and as a result of watching a TV programme, of all things! Whilst at University studying for a Marine Zoology Degree (Anna had always wanted a career in marine conservation) she watched a programme about people being challenged to do things outside of their comfort zone. What she observed was so truly remarkable that it resulted in a change of direction for Anna. It transpired that one of the participants “a guy who was blind, completed some really remarkable tasks, such as abseiling and climbing!” Indeed, watching this courageous episode got Anna thinking ‘what must life be like for him? Or for that matter, for anybody who cannot see?’
Anna got to appreciate just how brave this man was when she herself took part in a blindfold challenge (a Blindfold 24 Hours in fact!) to raise money for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To some extent this experience got her hooked. Participating in such challenges took her out of her own comfort zone and Anna subsequently went on to do a Blind Scuba Dive, a Blindfold Rock Climb and a Blindfold Horse riding lesson!!
After her first blindfold event however, Anna was invited to apply for a dog training course called a ‘My Guide’ course. This scheme is aimed at training volunteers to ‘partner’ or ’buddy’ blind or sight-impaired individuals to help them gain some independence by working with their dogs to, for example, navigate a bus route or make a cup of tea.
Anna said she didn’t really know what to expect and felt a bit nervous at first, especially since she herself is sighted. However, she needn’t have worried, she took to the “very rewarding work” fast, and found the people to be very welcoming. Indeed, she remains very good friends with one of the people she once helped to guide. Anna also feels she developed and gained valuable insight through the role. “It makes you think outside of the box,” she said. “You become aware of every kerb or bump in the road”.
She went on to outline some of the rather obscure concepts blind people have to deal with. “I had to think about, and was able to recall visual details to describe and relay back, I had to describe colours and” Anna gave me a worried look “give my truthful opinion about how someone’s clothes looked!”
It seems that Guide Dogs for the Blind are a very supportive organisation. Anna had DBS checks and was given advice and guidance on many issues, including Safeguarding. However, much of her day to day work was self-managed. She was introduced to the two people she was to support then she made visits independently, keeping a log to describe activities to feed back to the organisation. Anna worked with two very different personalities and said it was interesting to see the difference in visual impairment and the level of need.
When asked to describe the most positive things about her volunteer experience, Anna said it was “gaining a friend for life” and “getting the experience that led to my current full time employment”.
Anna believes her volunteer work helped her gain full time paid employment, first as a guide dog Mobility Instructor, but later it had a direct impact upon her ability to access her current post as Volunteer Co-ordinator with Coast Care and Northumberland Wildlife Trust (a marine conservation scheme that aims to engage 2000 volunteers in activities to safeguard the outstanding North Northumberland coastal landscape by 2020). This individual project, in partnership with Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and The Seahouses Development Trust, aims to protect and care for the wildlife in and around the North East Coastline.
With hindsight Anna now believes that a “random quirk” that initially led her away from marine conservation also brought her back. In the end though, volunteering for various organisations (including BDB) has Anna the recruitment and training knowledge she now uses to benefit her own volunteers.