One evening I had a phone-call. It was rather out-of-the-blue. Someone I had never met called me and asked a huge favour. He sounded rather desperate on the telephone.
There had been a complete misunderstanding and miscommunication in a voluntary project he had been managing. He was now very anxious because he had a charity event for hundreds of people scheduled and someone had let him down and pulled out of the pledge to decorate the venue literally at the very last minute.
The decorator who had made a pledge and then pulled out had referred the project manager to our main coordinator. He had a huge team of volunteers who were skilled decorators. However, he was not able to give any of his own time at such short notice because he already had other commitments. Normally, projects are scheduled weeks, months or even years in advance. His only suggestion was that the project manager ring some of the decorators and ask if any were available at short notice.
I was one of the decorators he contacted. By the sound of things, he had not had much success! Nobody was available at such short notice. I was thoughtful. Much as I have the volunteer spirit, I did have to hesitate for a moment. I was about to move. I was in the middle of packing all my belongings into one suitcase and one plastic box of lever arch files. I had just been to visit my family to say goodbye to them as I was not sure how many months it would be until I would see them again. I was due to return to the county I had been living in and then after a couple of shifts in a local nursing home I had promised to do, I would be moving to London. I had a lot to do. Lots of projects and commitments I had been involved in, now I was having to train others to take over.
So, in all honesty, the desperate plea from the project manager was something I did hesitate about. I explained even if I could be available, it was not a one-person job. It was a huge venue. I could not do it alone in one day. I said we need more help. As he and I continued to discuss the task at hand, thoughts flooded my mind of how I first felt when I became a volunteer. The excitement, the thrill, the satisfaction of learning completely new skills and achieving results I never imagined I was capable of. The enjoyment of being part of a wonderful, willing team of volunteers who had such a joyful good humour. It was not like any paid work I had ever been involved with. I knew that if the project manager could muster a group of unskilled but willing enthusiastic volunteers then there was a definite possibility we could accomplish something. I only had my own decorating tools.
On the day, I set off with three friends from the town I had been living in. We drove a couple of hours and arrived at the venue at 6.15am. One of our car party had volunteered to be a first-aider for the day because I was convinced that with a group of unskilled volunteers we would be needing a first-aider and first aid equipment. My other two friends had been on voluntary projects but had never done any decorating.
When we arrived, we were thrilled to find a group of different ages, male and female. There were even three boys who had come on holiday for the weekend to visit some friends and who had been roped into helping. One major help to maintaining the enthusiasm of the volunteers was the volunteer team who supplied breakfast, lunch, an evening snack, and rounds of hot and cold drinks and cake throughout the day. Amazing! Feed the workers!!! Essential to the success of any voluntary project!
I knew there was only one way we could do this with one set of tools. After a health and safety briefing, I explained each person would be given a task and as a team we would be like a production line. I set a few straight to work with sandpaper in their hands, checking the walls to make sure they were ready for wall-papering. Then two volunteers were given the task of the cutting table. I gave them a training session to explain how the industrial wall-paper we were using worked, the need for precision, reverse hanging, how after the larger pieces were hung I would be asking them to cut precise measurements, wetting the back of the paper to the right level. I gave them tape measures, pencils, cutting scissors.
Then I had a couple of pasters. They had to paste the walls. Then we had a couple of teams who would hang the large lengths of paper. Each team was made of two. One person would have to stand on the stepladder bearing the weight of the length of wall-paper, the other would have a spirit level to make sure everything was straight. They had special spatula boards for smoothing the paper onto the wall. One task I did not train anyone else in at first was cutting the seams in between each piece. I decided until I knew how each person I worked I had better do that to myself to begin with (later on in the day I was able to assign someone that task and he did a fantastic job). I also had some volunteers doing some painting and varnishing.
The process of wall-papering was started. I trained others to paper smaller areas such as below windows, where we did not need any stepladders. I asked one volunteer to make sure with very clean water she wiped off any excess paste that was showing. A couple of volunteers picked up all the waste offcuts and rubbish and kept the whole area tidy and hazard free. The team also helped out with cleaning all the equipment and removing everything from the venue so that it was ready for public use.
Here is an idea of what the team were working on. Personally, I was immensely pleased with all of them. I knew there were some itching to learn another task than the one I had originally given them, so I did give them the chance to have a go later in the day when I knew we were steaming ahead.
Well…we did it! With a team who had never used industrial wall-paper, some of whom had never even lifted a paintbrush or attempted any kind of decorating. With just one set of tools and a lot of cake and cups of tea, an incredibly willing attitude and a lot of beautiful qualities like humility, patience and willingness to be trained and corrected, that marvellous team achieved what at one stage had seemed impossible.
Thank you thank you thank you to all of those amazing volunteers.
The project manager was beaming with delight. He sent me photos of the event that had been scheduled. A few years later I bumped into him in London. I did not recognize him at first, but he remembered me. He was still brimming over with gratitude and enthusiastically told the party he was with what had been accomplished on that special day.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the whole world was a team of volunteers who were going to work together to clean up this planet. Everyone willing and eager to take on any task given to them. All happy to learn new skills and humble enough to learn and be corrected. We would not stop until the whole planet was clean and there was a satisfactory home for each person – nothing ostentatious, just something that was comfortable and suitable for the environment where it was situated. I am sure there would be some volunteers given the task of the catering, key members of the work force…food fuels the volunteers.
All volunteers, no glory hunters, nobody accruing huge financial commercial assets, a huge wonderful team accomplishing what people once thought was impossible! Do you have any idea how large the smiles of the volunteers would be once they were able to stand back and realize the results? What a victory for the human family that would be!