Victorious Volunteers

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.

constructionSo, 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.

Sarah-Pattern-Matching (3)

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!





Two Men Parked Outside In A Big Black Van Staring At My Windows

Black Van

It’s OK.  The decorators are here!  They pulled up outside the house at 5.30am in a big black van and have been watching my windows, for any signs that I am up and ready to let them in.  At first I found it incredibly intimidating.  Now I comprehend why they do it.  If you are a tradesman or tradeswoman….or tradesperson…ugh…Let’s start again!  If you are a plumber, electrician, painter, decorator…chances are you find it easier to use a vehicle for work.

If you have a trade and you have to travel to various residences to complete tasks then you will likely have to take tools, dust sheets, paint or whatever else you might need to be able to carry out tasks.  It is helpful to have your own vehicle to carry with you all the equipment and materials you will need.

Now in most parts of the UK it makes sense to be a driver.   Roads move fairly freely, in many areas there are few restrictions or charges to park your vehicle on a residential street.  But think again in London!!!  Traffic congestion, restrictions on parking in most areas, and then when you do find a pay and display area, it can cost a lot.  On the road I live on you have to pay-and-display between the hours of 8.30am to 6.30pm.  It costs £2.90 per hour, however, you are only allowed to park for a maximum of two hours.  It must be a nightmare for a tradesman with a vehicle.

This is why the decorators are here so early.  Now I understand, I make the effort for them.  I have been up since 4.45am.  I am rather house-proud so I always do a tidy up and basic clean in any rooms they are likely to enter.  As soon as they arrive, I send them a text message to say I am up and about.  They love it!  I let them in at 5.35am.  Am I not one of the nicest customers/house-holders?  I can see they are not wasting any time.  If they can get the work done and then get home missing the rush hour traffic jams completely…well good for them.  I am happy to adjust as it makes sense…now that I actually understand why they are sitting outside in a big black van staring at my windows at 5.30am.

Although I am a driver, I have rarely used a car since I moved to London (only when I was asked to drive on behalf of the infirmary I worked for – but that was a fleet car).  But I have felt that I just don’t need to drive at all, not for myself.  The only thing I miss, is not having a car to do a big weekly shop.  Instead, I do two of three small shops each week and I am sure I end up spending much more money.

Now…I really want to talk for a little while about buses.  I have been preparing tomorrow’s post…and be warned it is a weepie!!!  I need to shrug it off and dismiss it from my mind for a while.  So to do that I would like to think about those gorgeous shiny red double-decker motors that tourists love to take photographs of.  If you are not remotely interested in London buses….this is a signal to stop reading now….

The public transport system here is amazing.  I can walk to the end of my road and every 4-8 minutes there is a bus that will take me on a 48 minute journey for £1.50.  The bus route runs 24 hours a day!

Elsewhere in the UK the story is not the same.  In the town where I grew up, we had to walk fifteen minutes to get to the nearest bus stop.  The buses were supposed to come every 30 minutes, but were often way off schedule.  They certainly are not 24-hour routes.  They normally start at around 6am and finish at around 10pm.  Our town had no train station.  There were some villages that had a bus just one day a week.  It would pass through at around 9am and then make the return journey at 4pm.  For many residents it was their only way to travel into town to do their weekly shop.

When I first moved to the south of England I lived in a fairly rural area (actually it was a little taste of paradise)…half-way in between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Princess Kate (I never hear anyone calling her that) neé Middleton’s family.  For three and a half months I worked in a nearby town.  It just happened that those months were November through to February.  My hours were 9am-1pm each weekday.  To drive in a car it took about 25 minutes.  However, I had no car back then.  So I had to catch the bus.  Well three buses…that is on the journey to work…and two buses on the way back.  I woke before 5am every weekday.  I had to walk 20 minutes to a bus stop where a bus would take me to a village.  There I had to wait in the cold, in the dark for another bus to appear.  At that time of the morning there was no direct bus service.  The wait for the next bus was schedule as 23 minutes, but it was sometimes much longer.  Some mornings I remember it was bitterly cold and I had tears streaming down my face because the cold was so painful.  I would arrive in the town center just after 8pm and then I had to wait for a third bus to take me to the business park where I worked.  I worked out I was traveling anywhere between five to six and half hours each day, but being paid for four hours per day.

Are you feeling sorry for me yet?  I hope so!!!  What did I face when I reached work?

My job involved dealing with customers, a few of whom behaved rather obnoxiously.  I am going to say something controversial…Customers are not always right…and if I owned the business there are some customers whom I would have asked to leave and not to come back again.  The numerous occasions when I have looked at a cashmere sweater which a customer wants to return, and wondered to myself, “have they tried to feed it through a shredding machine unsuccessfully and then decided just to lay it our on their road and drive over it several times?”

However, I am one of the most uber-polite people I have ever known and I even admire myself for the incredible ability I seem to have to remain completely calm when somebody is outrageously rude and unreasonable. I am able to explain a company policy clearly in a respectful way and hold my ground. Nobody was surprised though, when I gave my notice in.  They thought it was a miracle that I had never been late and never had a day off sick after standing around in the freezing cold each morning for all those months.

I have another story…it is too long for this post.  Look out for it in the future…I think I will call it “Teenager Tantrum Leads To Traumatic Travel Tale” or something like that…it is really the story of one of the most provoking teenagers I have ever had to deal with…but it will also demonstrate to you how unreliable the public transport system can be in some parts of the UK.

No, here in London, I truly do not miss having a car.  Public transport is wonderful. Yesterday there was a huge change to the train time-tables here.  Plenty of people are upset and full of angst about the changes…but for most travellers, they will get use to the changes within a few weeks.  For me…I cannot complain.  Compared to my public transport experiences elsewhere in the UK…London is a breeze!

Come on London Buses!!!  Woo-wooh to hopper fairs!!!