Volunteers and volunteering

For most of my adult life, certainly since I have been a parent I have had some sort of voluntary position on the go. From being the helper / assistant leader / attending parent at Rainbows, Scouts or St Johns Ambulance, to running a kids reading group at the local library, from being a lookerer to a Waste Prevention Advisor . We stepped that up a notch when we spent nine whole months as WWOOFers volunteering and since moving to Rum I have held all sorts of roles all of which have been voluntary – director of the Community Trust, of the trading arm of the Community Trust, creator and editor of the community newsletter… I also write several articles each year for various publications on an unpaid basis.

I remember the episode of the US sitcom Friends where the character Phoebe attempts to find a truly selfless good act and struggles. At every turn trying to offer help and labour for no financial reward is thwarted by good fortune or karma coming her way. I think that’s true, giving your time, your skills, your effort is never really giving as you always get so much back. Thanks to my volunteering over the years I have learned countless new skills, spend time with some amazing people, done wonders for my CV (although I have reason to suspect and hope I never again have to actually compile, print or send my CV anywhere in search of a job!). All of this is quite aside from the actual reason I put my hand up and say ‘I could do that’ when a volunteering opportunity presents itself which is that I honestly believe if you can do something to help you should, if you have something to share you should offer it, an abundance of anything you should divvy it up with those who could do with some, give it back, pay it forward, share and give and offer. There is a massive intrinsic reward in volunteering, it’s a perfect situation in so many ways, or certainly should be. The volunteer should feel appreciated, fulfilled, a bit warm and fuzzy and good about themselves.

This year we planned to hold four big volunteer events with 10 or so people attending each. We scheduled in ten day events each time giving weekends off and plenty of time before and after working hours for exploring the island and getting stuck in to island life. We planned them around other events happening on Rum – community meals and visiting musicians so that there would be plenty going on. We warned about midges and weather and gave huge amounts of information about what to expect. All the things that we most appreciated from our best WWOOF hosts and missed not having at our more challenging hostings. Despite all this forward planning our June event didn’t happen – we had five firm bookings which I thought would be a good way of easing us into this years planned events. At short notice two people dropped out and another two got in touch to say they could no longer make the arranged dates but could come later. That left one volunteer on their own which was what we were hoping to avoid this year – our very isolated location coupled with our volunteer accommodation being either sharing the bell tent space or bringing their own tent (or of course paying to stay in the various options down in the village instead) means volunteers on Croft 3 are likely to get more out of their experience if they are here with other volunteers. Our rather small caravan is not suited to hosting additional people and despite really enjoying having volunteers and guests here we also value our time as a family in the evening, ensuring Davies and Scarlett have privacy and peace to get on with their various activities and we can get our fix of down time just the four of us. So we arranged for the lone volunteer to work with our community ranger instead where there was more variety of tasks and the opportunity to be with other volunteers in the village. The rescheduled volunteer couple did come but arrived during a bleak few days of weather and suffering with ill health so despite a good match of personalities and life philosophies they left earlier than planned to continue their adventure somewhere rather less extreme than Rum.

Our July event was looking really promising with 10 people booked to come. One dropped out with a good few weeks notice, two more the week before, three cancelled on the morning they were due to arrive and a further two simply didn’t turn up at all. Which meant arriving on the ferry was, you guessed it, one lone volunteer. Argh! Once again the weather has been cruel with high winds and relentless rain. None of the planned team activities have been remotely possible with just one extra pair of hands. Our usual Thursday boat trip which is often a real treat for visiting volunteers was rained off, the weekend when she had planned to get out and explore Rum was spoilt with rain and mist. It could easily have been a complete disaster. And yet, despite all this our volunteer this week has remained cheerful, filled with humour and gratitude for what we can offer, philosophical and accepting of what we can’t. She has worked hard and achieved lots and been a real ray of sunshine in a rather grey and dismal week. This week has not been about what either we as hosts or our WWOOFer as a volunteer had necessarily hoped for or expected. It has certainly for me been yet another reminder that making the most of opportunities, even when they are not quite as anticipated can often pay off and give even more than we first hoped.

I’m still hoping we get a full quota of the expected 10 volunteers in August. I’m still really hoping we get to put in those paths I have top of the list for volunteer activities. I’m sure that whatever happens I will learn something regardless.

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