The unintentional volunteer


By - Tuesday 17th November, 2015

It’s not the volunteering, it’s giving up the time, says Andrew Dickinson


Wandle Park bandstand.
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

It was Jonny Rose’s recent article on volunteering which has prompted me to share with you a potential benefit of volunteering that was missed from his list. My benefit was… a great night out in Croydon.

To my great surprise, I was nominated for Volunteer of the Year in the 2015 Croydon Community Civic Awards. I only became aware of this when I received a telephone call from the council to say I was in the final three and therefore invited to the award night at Fairfield Halls at the end of September. Information was emailed to me: the event was to be black tie and I could take up to three guests. That was easy. So my lovely wife, Eunice, was in and also my mum, Janet. Both were excited and delighted by the news.

I’m just passionately enthusiastic for Croydon and for those here trying to do some good

It was a strange feeling to be nominated as I never really classed myself as an intentional ‘volunteer’. I think of myself more as someone who lends support to an event or individual to either make up the numbers or help out. I’ve never signed up to anything to offer my time. I’m just a passionate enthusiast for my borough and those in it who are trying to do some good. I’ve had a few ideas that have come to fruition but nothing to be nominated for. Or so I thought.

One weekend, whilst enjoying a well earned tea-break in the Wandle Park community garden. I slipped my nomination into the conversation and the nominator duly ‘fessed up. So that put that mystery to bed. But for what roles had I been nominated?

Was it the eight arts and crafts fairs that I organised? No.Two Give and Take events in Surrey Street? No. Environmental Fair in North End? No.Three Fairtrade events? No. Apple pressing in Surrey Street as part of Heart Town day? No.Two days at Croydon Fun Palace? No. Helping set up and take down the outdoor cinema in Wandle Park bandstand? No.

So… could it be… 120 hours of community radio on Croydon Radio? YES! And numerous hours on a Sunday morning on Wandle Park community garden? YES! Preventing tonnes of waste coffee grounds going to landfill and growing tasty, nutritious Cr’Oyster mushrooms on them. YES!

I still didn’t feel confident of winning.

I barely recognised the Arnhem Gallery. It looked fantastic

Anyway, a week later, handsome, embossed invitations turned up, one for each of us, so excitement levels were cranked up that little bit more.

When the big evening arrived, I barely recognised the Arnhem Gallery which looked fantastic. (I usually give blood here so it was nice to be present for something different) with Croydon crocus purple dominating the colour scheme and stars projected on to walls. The big screen on the far wall bore the words ‘2015 Croydon Community Civic Awards’ and the big round tables were laid out for ten guests with an attractive, central flower arrangements and the wine already waiting for us. At the drinks reception I had bumped in to one of the nominees for Young Volunteer of the Year, the delightful Jack Kew and his lovely parents, and we all hit it off then were delighted to find we were sharing the same table.

I kissed the mayor’s hand like a knight of old

Anyway the evening sped along. The food was very good, the wine, conversation and presentations flowed and very soon the Volunteer of the Year award was to be announced. I screwed my napkin in my hands and bit my lower lip as the resumes of the nominees were read out. I wished I was lying on one of the reclining chairs giving blood rather than going through this level of tension. ‘It’s not the volunteering. it’s the giving up the time’, went my unspoken winner’s speech inside my head. Then, just as when the needle is withdrawn and a piece of cotton wool and a plaster is put over the entry wound, it was all over. I’d not won. A gentleman who runs a scout group was the worthy winner and very well done to him.

The evening wasn’t finished as I got to have my picture taken with the mayor and kissed her hand as a knight of old would kiss the hand of his queen (or king) before setting off to defend the realm… or maybe to volunteer.

What a night! I never expected such an outcome. I’m not saying that everyone would be as fortunate as to be nominated, but it’s reminded me that not all our deeds may go unsung. I’d encourage as many people as possible to get involved in volunteering.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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