Week 36 - Parkinson's UK
One should never underestimate the power of giving time. We live in a society consumed and governed by the amount of money we spend. Constantly being asked every single day from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep; give, give, give!
Yet time is so much more valuable.
My mission with Parkinson's UK this week was based on time, my own and getting others to give theirs.
There were around 12.5m people who volunteered last year and I have been lucky enough to see first hand at so many amazing organisations the direct impact that those people have. But volunteering isn't about the traditional going to serve in a charity shop counter. It's so much more. From photographing at events to teaching yoga to those in need; giving a skill is just as valuable.
So in light of how intrinsic volunteers are to the running of almost every charity in the UK I started my week trying to find those kind people.
With Parkinson's UK planning my visit for many months - I headed over to Hartwell House on Saturday night (owned by the Rothschild's) to kick off their 'Spooky Sprint' event. A 5 & 10K run around the National Trust property as the sun was setting was the perfect way to start the countdown to Halloween. With 125 people booked onto the run, all hands were on deck to make sure it ran smoothly.
Despite having a pretty sizeable volunteer team (around 8 people at the event) it really would not have been possible without volunteer help. I of course made up one of those volunteers but there were an array of people scattered around the site making sure that the event ran smoothly. And boy did it go well. With head torches in place and the start line ready to go; the countdown began. There were cheers and whoops as the runners left the estate, full of joy and spirit.
I have to say it went off without a hitch - It even rivalled some of the other well know charities I have visited this year in its professionalism. The atmosphere was electric. But it also made me realise how important it was for us all to be there. Without the help given that day it wouldn't have been the event it was.
Heading home I was full of excitement ready to join the team in London on Monday.
To be honest I didn't know much about the condition. Parkinson's isn't something that has affected anybody near and dear to me and as I didn't have any reason to look into it - my knowledge was pretty broken. It's mainly something that affects people in their older years but can come on earlier. There is no cure and it is something that you live with for the rest of your life. It may not kill you but the symptoms can definitely feel like a life sentence.
Most people know it for its shakes but there are a lot more hidden symptoms to the condition. Like for instance most people almost completely lose their sense of smell; which can become a great nuisance - especially when making toast!
Speech impediments, not being able to walk straight, severe nerve pain and many, many more nerve related implications can make life for somebody living with the condition pretty hard.
To better understand this, I was sent off to a group session for people living with Parkinson's on Monday. I always find it better to meet people first hand that live with these things - as opposed to getting told by the charity. You learn so much more by being in the presence of somebody who has a condition or illness, even if it is just 30 minutes. But what struck me most was the resilience of the group. Some of them couldn't even walk, crippled by the condition yet got up to go to the group and participate in yoga, painting and table tennis.
One lady I spoke to had only recently been diagnosed with the condition - her friends and family didn't even know. But she came to the group to understand a little bit more. She herself was also diagnosed with breast cancer 4 years ago and had a string of bad luck after bad luck. But she wasn't sad or angry. She had this uplifting spirit that radiated out of her like a lighthouse on a dark winters night. See that's the thing with people like that; no matter what hardships they have gone through, what battles they have fought, they have a sense of humility and acceptance. An incredible gift and a wisdom that I wish everybody had.
Having a better grasp of Parkinson's and how it affects people's lives, I headed back to HQ to help find people to help.
But, being Parkinson's UK they didn't want to set me any old challenge - of course not. This forward thinking and innovative organisation went a step above and beyond. Roping in their in-house film and media team, I was challenged to find 7 volunteers for the next 'Spooky Sprint' event via LinkedIn, whilst being filmed. No small feat - but, I was up for the challenge.
In my head I thought, "Yeah, I got this". How hard can it be to recruit 7 volunteers? I have almost 50,000 followers myself, a host of websites to access and a database full of people; not to mention unlimited access to the internet. Well, I wrong. I take my hat off to all you out there that spend your days trying tooth and nail to find willing people to lend their generous help to organisations across the country and quite frankly, there should be more organisations out there willing to help. It's tough; really bloody tough.
I spent the whole of Tuesday scouring the internet, posting updates and asking as many people, groups and organisations as I could to lend a hand. Going down every single avenue I could to find to get my message out. Blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn; the list goes on.
It dawned on me after about an hour that no matter how hard I tried on LinkedIn, it wasn't going to work so, took to every other resource possible to find a way. This is in by no means a criticism of any social platform or website in general, but there definitely is a huge gap in the market. Definitely a conversation for a later date!
I left slightly defeated on Tuesday evening, not having found a single person to help. Where I was of course optimistic, I also wanted to be real - as of yet no volunteers. But driven by my sheer determination I went to bed knowing I could give it my best shot!
Whilst on my way into the office on Wednesday morning my phone buzzed. Somebody has seen my cry for help and sent me a message on LinkedIn. I had done it. The feelers that I had put out the day before had been answered by some kind person somewhere in the UK - hurrah!
With one down by 9am I had hope and I ran with it. More of the same yesterday but slowly and surely people started coming forward. To be honest I was as amazed as the Parkinson's UK team were. But by the time 4pm rolled around I had miraculously managed to find 7 willing people to help.
I have to say that this week has been an experience, a good experience. I leave having learnt so much about the voluntary sector. Volunteers are amazing, they really are but finding those gems among the rubble is a tedious and painstaking job. So I take my hat off to all those who work so hard to make sure that every event, every group, every bake sale and every activity you do runs and runs smoothly.
I leave Parkinson's UK being incredibly impressed - they are what a UK charity should be doing, a credit to the sector.