Not many people would be up to their ears in volunteering, and a winner of two awards, just a year after a life-threatening cancer operation. But Ron Martin has done just that, since his shock diagnosis at the Royal Berkshire Hospital last year.
Within a few months of surgery in June 2010, Ron, who lives in Earley, had taken part in an 18-hour 44-mile walk from Reading to Broadcasting House in London, raising £550 for Children in Need.
“I got my energy back and proved to myself I could do it – it really gave me a taste to go on and do more volunteering. I found it very satisfying.”
Since the walk for Children in Need, he has worked his way, via an impressive amount of other volunteering, to his biggest single role – running the new Healthy Planet “Books for Free” shop in central Reading.
Ron found this unusual opportunity at the Books for Free shop via Reading Voluntary Action, which provides free advice to anyone looking for a volunteering role in Reading.
“I found a visit to RVA’s volunteering shop was a really good way to find out what was available, and pick out what suited me best. The people there were very friendly and helpful and I certainly needed some pointers, as I quickly found out there’s masses of volunteering available in Reading,” Ron said. “My volunteer adviser gave me a shortlist of roles after we’d discussed what I was looking for, and the one that said ‘help run free bookshop’ jumped out at me. So I told myself to give it a go.”
Under Ron’s guidance the Books for Free shop, sited in the elegant old building in King Street, Reading that used to house Barclays Bank, is now a thriving venture. Ron opens up three half days a week, helped by one other volunteer. The shop is part of a venture by national charity Healthy Planet to recycle books that would otherwise have gone to landfill or pulping.
Healthy Planet Founder Shaylesh Patel said: “We redistribute these books throughout communities via our stores nationwide. By visiting our stores and taking a free book, youaehaposre reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill each year and helping to recycle valuable resources. So far we have saved 21 tonnes of books!
In June 2011 Ron won an award for his work as a new volunteer with this project from Hammersmith and Fulham Volunteer Centre, the area where Healthy Planet is based. His citation from Healthy Planet said: “Ron has been incredible! He is really reliable and enthusiastic, and his commitment to the initiative has made a difference to the success of Books for Free. Thank you for all you hard work and support!”
In his turn Ron is now on the lookout for volunteers to help the shop grow. “We need more volunteers so we can open every day. It’s a good role for anyone who’d like to help members of the public find books they will enjoy, and can spare just a few hours. If anyone wants to use the work to help improve their English, that’s fine, they’ll get plenty of practice!”
On his road to recovery Ron, who is in his sixties, has volunteered with a host of other causes. After the walk for Children in Need, he raised funds for Robbie the Robot as part of the Royal Berkshire Hospital appeal to enable the latest state-of-the-art robotic-assisted prostate cancer surgery to continue.
Next was helping at Reading’s landmark Gay Pride event himself, and convincing his wife and mother-in law to volunteer too. “I felt proud being part of the march through Reading. The people were terrific and we thoroughly enjoyed it,” Ron said.
Ron’s has also had an active role in a “Healthy Eating for Men” Project, which brought him his second award, the Group of the Year Adult Community Learning award from Wokingham Borough. And that’s not all! Ron also does some environmental conservation work with Earley Environment Group, and is currently hoping to be taken on in a volunteering role with Thames Valley Police.
“To anyone thinking about volunteering but hesitating, I’d say give it a go. I wasn’t really sure at the start that I wanted to go into it, it was so alien to what I’ve done in the past. But it turned out to be brilliant.”
He is convinced that volunteering has had a major part to play in his return to health, giving him a chance to try work he’d never done before, and a real sense of doing something worthwhile.
“So try putting your toe in the water, and get help from RVA’s volunteering service to find what would fit with your life. And there’s lots of volunteering that doesn’t actually need a lot of time!”