Michael shares his experiences of volunteering from early childhood to considerations from a political perspective including with regard to his professional role as Chief Exec at a volunteer centre in London 

so Hello, Michael. I just wanted to start with asking you about what is your experience with volunteering? Yeah. Now that I've been a volunteer centre manager for five years, I've thought about that quite a lot. Um, did a presentation really recent recently, And I was kind of trying to reflect that in my presentation

And I thought back, and I concluded that my first volunteering was helping the local farmer who delivered eggs to the front door, Um, who had two broken hips. And when I was about eight or nine, my mother used to say, Oh, it's so sad that he, um he has to He has to struggle up the drive, you know, he has to struggle from to the front gate, um, to deliver the eggs. And, uh So I went out one day and I said, Can I do that for you? And then after a while, he let me follow him around our street, delivering the eggs to the front doors of houses, and it made me feel really good

I felt like I was doing something useful, and I was quite shy, child, and I was quite nervous about going up to the doors of even people who lived on our street, And I kind of had that process of feeling I was developing or something like that, and I think that gave me a sort of taste for it. Volunteering I you know, I feel empowered by helping people, and I feel instantly rewarded by feeling helping somebody else, even in a small way. Um, years later, I've had experience of depression and anxiety from burning out through a job, and I very much felt in my recovery from that doing the washing up or changing nappy or taking somebody else's child from the school gate for a couple of hours

Um, small things make me feel better, that sort of cycle of achievement. And when I came to the volunteer centre here in Kensington, Chelsea in 2017 after the fire, um, I found that slightly more formalised here in a way that I recognise. So those cycles of setting achievable modest goals for yourself, maybe with the help of other people, and then following through developing yourself so that you can achieve them having that sense of self efficacy and then reflecting and maybe going again for something else

and in a sense, my experience of volunteering today with, uh, volunteer Centre. Whether the goal that the person has when they come through the door to us is a well-being goal like it would have been when I was recovering of depression, whether it's a desire to get into work, whether it's a desire to get out of the house and have connection with human beings. Um, even if it's just a sort of a desire to give back to your community, which in Kensington and Chelsea there's a wide range of people who feel that way or a combination of many of those different goals, which is typical of our clients

It's that cycle of achievement, um, building achievement and then building your self efficacy. I feel very strongly that that is what makes us resilient. And, um, it's a strong base to be able to do all sorts of different things

And so, in a way, although I think that giving care to others, caring for other people and doing practical things, to show that you care and to help them improve their lives is at the centre of volunteering for me in a way it doesn't matter so much what form that volunteering takes as long as it's not purely a transaction. So I think there has to be that the centre of volunteering for me is that human connection. So even if you're volunteering for a very large organisation or the type of volunteering you're doing each day is very different

As long as somewhere in that process you're building a connection. That could be You're delivering a food parcel at somebody's front door if you bring eggs at somebody's front door. Uh, it could be, um, you're coaching of sports session

It could be your overseeing an upcycling project. All sorts of different things could be that you're in the laundry and a homeless, uh, V CS organisation. Um, washing and drying the laundry of people who sleep rough, which is what we consider to be the hardest volunteering job in all right, whatever it is, as long as you have that connection

So the connection with the people you're working with, or even better, the connection with the people you're working with and the people that you're working for. Um, that's what makes it powerful. And that's what drives the sense of self efficacy

I think there has to be. And, of course, in a volunteer centre setting or in any other place where volunteers are mobilised and deployed. It's about, um, the the mutual sense of care

So it's about the sense that not only do you care for others, but your care for them is valued by them by people who are helping to deploy you or who are your peer volunteers. It's that sense of humanity and action that the mutual care that's the really, um, which is the building block of that self efficacy and that ability, then to meet other challenges in your life. Um, like being overworked or stressed, um, losing somebody that you love, um, losing your home or whatever it is that's what enables you to go again and and and build and go forward

And for me, that is part of a bigger project, which is about making the world a better, fairer, more equitable place. Collectively, um, that collective element that again that mutual care, um, is non negotiable. It's bound

It's bound up in what it means to volunteer. So in a way, for me coming to volunteer centre in Kensington, Chelsea and finding a culture, um, and helping to propagate that culture, which is collective, um, based on love and care and valuing each other, uh, has been a Yeah, a massively inspiring, um, motivating find. I really, um I guess I'm my late, uh, my early fifties now, And it happened at a time in my life where there were lots of different directions my life could have gone in

And I'm really grateful that, um I happened to land here at the right time. It's really powerful. I love the ideas of connection and that that humanity being really important if you want to say something more around around that, I suppose, um, I suppose I, um, come from a background of having learned about, um, history and philosophy, formally, And, uh, when I was doing that, it was my first year doing philosophy and history of ideas at Cardiff University

Um, which I again kind of stumbled upon accidentally. Somebody said that I liked an argument, and that philosophy would suit me. Um, and it turned out they were right

Um uh, and I was exposed to a huge range of different, um, ideas and theories about how the world works how the world should work. Um and I don't really at all subscribe to the idea of a marketplace of ideas. I don't think such thing exists

I think we're presented in general in life with, um, the ideas that people with large concentrations of power want us to have and then that those ideas are sold into us. But at that time in my life, I I guess I felt that I had the opportunity to think and reflect on lots of different approaches to life. And, uh, I very quickly came to the conclusion that, uh, I was approaching life through a dynamic of how power flows through society and social institutions and what you can do about that, how it affects people, how it often impoverishes or crushes people's, uh, spirits

And I came to the conclusion quite early that I wanted to be involved in the world in a way which would distribute that power much more evenly and that I was quite suspicious of people who wanted to acquire more of that power. Um, without the accountability to the collective, that, um would counterbalance it. And so I guess I I sort of found my way to a sort of a narco communist view of the world where, um, the best things that we build, we build between people

And I guess that's the approach that I've taken ever since is that I tried to be a person who connect people and thinks about, um, interesting ways to combine people's strengths and goals together to try and take collective projects forward and I. I guess I've also been profoundly suspicious of people who, um, who do things for money. Um, because everybody needs a warm, safe place to sleep, and everybody needs enough to eat

Um, everybody needs time to reflect and, uh, care and love. But for me, those things, um, shouldn't be contingent on one's ability to labour. They should be the fundamentals of how we organise our lives

And so, um, yeah, I guess I I've tried to avoid situations in which I'm working with people or four goals, which has to do with, um seeing people or situations as profit. And, um, I guess that's how I ended up coming to finding my way to a volunteer centre because, um, I don't want to judge anybody else and I don't want to, um, prevent them from taking their lives in the direction that they think are appropriate. But I where I can I want to work with people and encourage people to do things because they care about them and because they think that they're they're good

Um, and the volunteer centre seems like a good place to start with. Thank you. As you were speaking, I was thinking about some of the themes around the vision for volunteering

I don't know if you want to reflect on whether anything that you've discussed might tie into any of those. Well, um, I suppose thinking very, very much about where I come from, I've described already that, um, an analysis of power is very important to me and thinking about the opportunities that people do or don't have for giving their time and their care to others. Um, people's choices are massively constrained by how much power they have

Um, So for example, um, I live, uh, I live in a very affluent part of London in Richmond, but I work in, uh, the most unequal, uh, borough in the country, Kensington and Chelsea. And my experience is that um, people from the poorest parts of the community. Um, marginalised and racialized

Um, people who are disabled people have long term mental health issues. People released from prison from psychiatric care often make, uh, as good or better volunteers, uh, than somebody who has the means to make many more choices about what they do with their time. But that first group of people are often, um, because they have fewer choices

They either don't think of themselves as volunteers, their their their carers for their neighbours, for example, they're contributing to their church or to their mosque or to their temple. Um, volunteering in many cases doesn't speak to them as a term, but also, um, they're massively constrained by the position they find themselves in economically. And I think the parts of the vision that talk about the power to volunteer and the opportunities that go with that and the constraints that go with that appeals to me

I'm very interested in, for example, um, we talk a lot about the protected characteristics and how, for example, race might affect uh, you know how somebody is racialized might affect the opportunities they have to give time to others the acceptability of their offer, Um, or, for example, gender and how that might influence their opportunities. But we're almost not allowed to talk about how class and economic power, um, affect and constrain those choices. And in a in a very unequal borough like this one, the impact is stark

It's, you know, it's It's one of the first things that you see, if not the first, Um, when you encounter somebody wanting to make an offer of of their time and their care. And I suppose that's the That's the part that that something like a vision for volunteering where the rubber really hits the road. Because that's the part that, um can have a potentially huge impact on the extent of participation of some parts of the community in civil society, where other parts of the community might not even reflect on those choices, that for them that's a it's a personal choice

It's maybe a moral choice as to whether you give to your community or not, whereas for a significant proportion of the population in a borough, um, there are some very, very practical constraints about, uh, having to do so many hours of work in order to pay the bills that you you know, you don't have the time or the energy to to give your time to others. And yet many of those people still find time to to contribute and to give their time as volunteers. Thank you

Thank you, Michael. Is there anything else you wanted to add in the time we've got? I think I've talked enough. Thank you


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