I recently had the opportunity to visit the New Directions Centre in South Reading and talk with one of their team of volunteers, Stephen Allen. Stephen shared his experience of volunteering with me.
How did you get involved in volunteering?
I started working as a volunteer for New Directions in September 2014 having taught Field Archaeology for the University of Reading for fifteen years. I had a very serious accident and illness, which resulted in me being hospitalised and very nearly dying, and I thought “well, how can I use my experience?” I became aware of volunteering opportunities at New Directions and I applied, and I have enjoyed every day I’ve spent here since.
What does the volunteering involve?
I volunteer in E.S.O.L., which is ‘English with Speakers of Other Languages’, classes on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I also make myself available for anything else that comes up, and I will be teaching some archaeology courses in the future.
What difference do you make to those you are helping?
The people that come are a mixture of levels. English isn’t, obviously, their first language; sometimes they’re rather frightened of learning English.
Not being able to speak English inhibits not only their social life but also their official life. Communicating with doctors, hospitals, job applications outside of their immediate family circle is often very difficult. They come to us to learn English for a reason, and the reason is they want to better themselves, either work or life, so they’re really keen to learn.
We can see them flower over the course, like petals opening on a flower as they begin to speak English and use it out there to enhance their life.
It literally is a life-building course, even at the basic level; it doesn’t matter what level they are at the start, they can go out there and speak English better when they finish the course than when they started. It’s a marvellous thing to see.
What do you get out of it?
It gives me great pleasure to help other people to learn. I thought when I was teaching archaeology that I just enjoyed teaching archaeology, and that was a thrill enough, it was a privilege and I wouldn’t have wanted money for that. Now having come to New Directions as a volunteer, I realise that the pleasure I get is from helping other people to learn. It literally is as simple as that.
What would you say to someone who was thinking about volunteering?
I would recommend visiting Reading Voluntary Action as a starting point. I’ve been to Reading Voluntary Action before, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the range of volunteering opportunities that there are there.
Traditionally volunteering is perceived as “oh, let’s go to the local Oxfam” or Help the Aged or whatever and we can work there, yeah, that’s good and it’s a very worthwhile thing to do, but the actual number of volunteering opportunities are considerable. I was very surprised the first time I visited RVA, it’s not just working behind a shop counter it’s all manner of things. There’s almost a choice of volunteering options to suit every taste.
Inspired? Current volunteering opportunities with New Directions include: