I had a long career in Local and Central Government before leaving in Autumn 2013. Beginning with a profession in Human Resources (HR) I worked for many years with schools helping head teachers and governing bodies with leading and developing their most important resource, and sometimes supporting them in dealing with disciplinary and redundancy situations. The final years of my career were as a Senior Civil Servant as Deputy Director within a Shared Service Organisation. In that role I was accountable for a diverse suite of specialisms as well as for the whole organisation as part of the Executive Team.
I was aware that leaving a career that had been the major part of my life for such a long time needed planning for, especially as my husband and I were moving to West Wales from Leeds in May of the following year. At 61 I was not ‘retiring’ but finding alternatives to employment in which I would use at least some of my hard won skills, and which would also enable me to tap into other interests. I was also very keen that, having benefitted from public sector employment and with the prospect of a public sector pension, I would ‘give something back’ to the citizens of the UK who had in many ways paid for my employment and in the same way would be paying for my pensions.
I had long had an interest in literacy so when I saw a brochure for a scheme called ‘Reading Buddies’ it seemed something that would provide local community interaction and would enable me to work on literacy. I spoke to Volunteering Matters (then CSV) and discovered that the Reading Buddy Scheme had recently ceased but that the aims of that project were still very much alive and indeed a brand new project (Learning Together Cymru) was in prospect. I met the representative from the Cardiff office very quickly and was hooked!
As well as being placed in a local school (not a small challenge as Carmarthenshire schools are Welsh Medium and I do not speak Welsh!) I was also very interested in working as an Organiser – liaising with other volunteers and attending regional Organisers meetings. I also became involved with other organisational work – in over two years I have volunteered in various roles; sat on the Advisory Board for Wales, worked on a Communication Plan, sat on two interview panels. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend the National Conference in Salisbury in 2015.
Over the two years I have learned a great deal about Volunteering Matters and the world of the Third Sector – very new to me and obviously very different from the big employment-based organisations I had been involved with in the past. I loved still being part of a team and using some of the skills and expertise I had spent 42 years developing. The Welsh team consists of some lovely and talented people and I have so enjoyed being part of that energy and enthusiasm. And my time in school has been a joy. As a result of my lack of Welsh, I have been placed with 4 to 6 year olds with a general learning focus. They make me smile every week, even those weeks where some of the more challenging children decide to be extra challenging all at the same time! Once I proved my worth with the “plant bach” (little ones) I also began supporting the 10 and 11 year olds with their English reading – it is often difficult for young Welsh speakers to read in what is an entirely different language with different phonetics and structure. It is so rewarding when they ask to be able to read with you and you can see each glimmer of improvement.
And so to today. Over the past two years I have been refining my ideas on what my non-employment years will be about. I have decided that I would like to focus on what I think were my strongest strengths – coaching in particular – and to train in literacy so that I can work with adults as well as children. So with a heavy heart I have just told Learning Together Cymru that although I will remain with the school I will relinquish my other roles. This is just at the time that I have been offered more involvement in a wider role with training and marketing, my apologies for that.
But volunteering is not just about what you give but what you are given – the personal benefits of using skills and experience and offering it back into the community are significant. Some of the things you miss when leaving a ‘big’ role in a big organisation are: influencing, coaching, transforming, improving, communicating, challenge, teams, recognition and most of all social interaction and fun! Thanks Volunteering Matters Wales and Learn Together Cymru for all you have given me!
I feel excited and maybe a bit anxious about my potential new adventures, and I also feel a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger at the moment – I fancy that one day ‘I will be back’!