I helped at Barnardo’s summer camps.
I am a member of the Engineering Capability team within Network Rail’s Infrastructure Projects function, working to develop and bring the right professional skills and knowledge to our engineering workforce.
All Network Rail employees have up to five days’ paid volunteer leave every year, and I wanted to use this fantastic opportunity to offer something back to our wider community. Barnardo’s is our current Charity of Choice and when I saw a flyer seeking volunteers to help during school holiday activities, I jumped at this prospect.
What did I do?
All the activities were based at the Active4Youth centre, which hosts summer camps on behalf of Barnardo’s, on the banks of Caldecotte Lake in Milton Keynes.
I got involved in kayaking, caving, raft building and sailing to name a few (Zorbing pictured below), although the real work was helping the children and young people in each of these activities. There wasn’t any pressure to participate beyond one’s wishes and there are numerous ways that volunteers helped: qualified instructors led each event; volunteers get involved to the limit of their own abilities; and there is always a full-time Barnardo’s representative on site to cater for any demanding situations that arise.
What did I give and get?
It brought joy to see the development and engagement of the young people in how they tackled their own personal challenges and how I was able to participate.
A particular memory was seeing the beaming smile on one child’s face as I encouraged him lie back in the water and float without any adult assistance. What makes this remarkable is that the child, due to his particular needs, has a full-time carer and struggles to achieve many tasks unaided.
Helping a group of four children through a caving complex made me put aside my own fear and anxiety of the enclosed, dark space to offer them the encouragement and praise they rightly deserved – it was also the first time I’ve played hide and seek in a concrete tunnel system, in pitch black!
What have I learnt?
Reflecting back on the whole volunteering experience, it reminded me of a comment from a former colleague that ‘not all disabilities are visible’. It was an enriching experience.