Volunteering has been a life-changing experience

Chris Dowsett, Head of IT Application and Infrastructure Management
06 June 2019
School child sat at a desk.
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When my HR department advertised for an opportunity to take part in a volunteering programme, I was intrigued. The programme involved working for a charity of your choice, while receiving management coaching. I was successful in applying and so glad that I did. It turned out to be a massively rewarding experience.

My volunteering experience came through a programme run by Red Thread, a small organisation that matches volunteers with local charities. The charities define what they are hoping to achieve over the next 12 months; you decide which charity you’d like to work with and then pitch your services to them.

Helping kids struggling at school

I wanted to work with Quest for Learning, a teaching and training charity that helps young children who are struggling with literacy and numeracy. I’ve got three young children myself and my wife works in a school, so I understood the importance of this work. Fundamentally, it’s about ensuring kids, often from inner city areas, don’t get left behind on their GCSE journey, as that is often what happens by the time these kids reach secondary school.

I also wanted to work with a small organisation where I knew I could make an impact. We drew up an agreement of how I would support them, devoting one day a month to volunteering. There were two main objectives: cutting costs by facilitating an office move and helping them with their GDPR compliance.

Making savings while improving data security

The charity had been based in an expensive unit in the centre of Oxford, but had recently found a new location in Didcot. It was about £1000 cheaper per month, a significant saving. My job with Amey is Head of IT Applications and Infrastructure, so I called in some favours with an IT supplier and some colleagues, who used their Community Involvement Day (a paid day’s leave that each Amey employee gets to volunteer in their local community) to help pack up and then install the equipment in their new office. I also got a van out of Amey’s fleet department. In the end, it was a team effort.

I’d been on Amey’s GDPR working group, so that was right in my comfort zone. I gave the charity advice on how they could formulate policies and processes to make sure they were considering their data security.

Personal development through volunteering

While doing this, I received management coaching from Red Thread: how to deal with conflict at work; understanding your strengths and weaknesses to maximise your potential; how to develop a strategy and sell it to your team. This was useful training, some of it refreshing what I already knew.

But in fact I got even more from working with the charity itself. Their operations director was a very impressive woman who had achieved a lot with limited resources and it was fascinating to learn from her.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to volunteer in the first place, and then the support from Amey throughout my year with the charity. It’s benefitted my work in other ways, as I’ve returned to my IT job with new skills and a fresh outlook.

A fresh outlook through volunteering

Working for Quest for Learning has changed the way I view education. I had no idea about how charities worked, how they are funded and the challenges they face. I’ve now become a big advocate for their work. I’m also now more focused on how I can do things that makes the world a better place somehow. This experience has broadened my horizons. My wife would say I’m less grumpy.

If you can afford the time in your life, then absolutely take the opportunity to do some volunteering. For me, it has been a life-changing experience.

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