Today is International VolunteersDay, aptly falling between November’s #IWill campaign and December’s celebration of the Sport Personality Awards, including the Unsung Hero Award.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to share my personal experience in volunteering and social action.

‘My social action started in my school days, raising money for various causes and through coaching at my Boxing Club. Today, I continue to do coach at the Boxing Club I founded at my University and regularly find opportunities to take part in volunteering and social action. This activity has helped me develop as an individual and is an important part of my life’

I wanted to begin by considering the impact of the Step Up To Serve and the #IWill campaigns These initiative has contributed towards increasing meaningful social youth action involving 42% of the youth population. The campaign’s purpose is to develop the skills, character and life opportunities for those aged between ten and twenty, whilst also providing benefits to communities, causes and social issues. This to me is essentially what all volunteering achieves, but it’s the focus on young people that resonates with me.

I hope that sharing my story can help others to relate and feel inspired to begin or get back into volunteering.

The first time I was involved in delivering social action was seven years ago when I was a disproportionally lanky thirteen-year-old.  I decided to run a fundraiser to support the Stroke Association, a charity that had recently become close my heart.  As it was to be run at our school I needed something that would capture students’ attention, open their wallets and encourage them to donate to charity instead of their grumbling stomachs at lunchtime.

I decided the best way was to fulfil both of their needs was by running a charity cake store at lunchtime. I visited a local cafe which was renowned for their tasty cookies and sweet treats. I successfully managed to secure several trays of freshly baked cookies to be collected on the morning of the event.

The day of the event and my team kitted out with tops sent by the charity and branded balloons, stood by our stall ready for the lunchtime bell. Needless to say, the cookies sold out, within just ten minutes! We had made around £50 to donate to the charity. Even though it was only a small amount I remember feeling proud when I sent the money to them. I knew it would contribute towards the larger impact the Stroke Association were making in helping people, like me, whose lives had been affected by a stroke.

It was at this time that I began coaching at my local boxing club. I had been training there for a little while, mainly because my older brother used to go.  I had several amateur fights lined up when I was forced to stop, indefinitely, by the doctor. I decided not to give up on the sport but to carry on my development in a new direction. I began coaching others, both older and younger. From teaching simple footwork, to taking pads and setting up drills, I began coaching twice every week and went on to gain my coaching badge qualification.

Coaching provided a new channel to focus my energy. It helped develop my character and confidence tremendously; I learnt the importance of communication, how to earn respect and how to motivate others. For the club it helped to have an extra pair of hands, allowing the trainers to spend more time focusing on individual boxers. It really was a win-win as it kept me involved and engaged in the club and a sport that I loved.

When I returned to contact sport eighteen months later, and throughout the rest of my teenage years, I continued to be involved in various forms of social action -mainly through fundraising and coaching.

In college, I found that students’ wallets were still only accessible through their stomachs. Thankfully, running Krispy Kreme’s ‘Raising Dough’ was the perfect way to convince them otherwise and to support charity.

At university I found many opportunities and causes I felt urged to support. The first was for Toby’s Gift, a charity set up following the passing of Toby Hart who donated his organs to save four other lives.  As part of a team, we ran a pub quiz off the beaten track in Dyffryn, North Wales.  The event was a hit as we raised £450.  Everyone there was so generous and supportive of our cause, which only helped to enhance the sense of fulfilment that we had from running the event.

Unfortunately, not everything was so smooth in my first year at university.   As the hopes of joining a largely integrated boxing club within the university fell short as there wasn’t one! There were no coaches, no equipment and no facilities for even those who had an interest in joining a boxing club.

I set about the next year convincing the Student Union to invest in equipment, allocate facilities, and promote the club ready for the next academic year and to find a coach.

Sadly, trying to find a coach to commit to the time slot we had available was challenging. I decided to step up and take charge of coaching the club myself. A club that had no members, an empty studio room and 25 pairs of new gloves with 5 sets of pads. Knowing the challenge at hand, I infiltrated as many student social hotspots to create awareness and interest for the new club.

Over the next few weeks the attendance grew to a consistent 30 members a week We would frequently exceed the capacity of the room as we welcomed new members to try it out.  I coached the club each week, drilling them on technique, fitness and skill. This was helping them to lead a better life and for some was the only form of physical activity they participated in during the week. The club is now in its second year and has grown to have two sessions a week, one of which I continue to coach.

The club also created a social platform for students to meet like-minded individuals, make friends and have a sense of belonging. Together we created a community that shares their experiences, interests and passions. On a personal level, I enjoyed every moment of the 270 hours I spent in the first year volunteering and developing the club. My experience and passion for volunteering was a key speaking point at interviews for a placements and helped me secure employment.

These experiences have been invaluable to me. They built my confidence, taught me how to communicate, work with a team and helped me to develop leadership, planning and organisational skills.  At the time I never fully appreciated the benefits of my experiences. Now, on reflection, I realise just how much they have helped to shape me into the confident individuals I am today.

As I now fall into the top bracket of youth social action and am on placement working fulltime, I am considering how I am can continue to support various causes and increase my impact on the world.

I hope to keep pursuing exciting fundraising opportunities and to amplify the impact my coaching has on the lives of others.  I also want to explore new opportunities and to consider how I can use my skills to benefit others when I return to university, after my placement, and in the long term.

I invite you to join me and make a commitment to challenge yourself and help others through social action. You could start your own Krispy Kreme ‘Raising Dough’ or find out how you can help my favourite charities Stroke Association and Toby’s Gift

I thank you all for reading and welcome any feedback or comments, and  invite you to share some of your own stories and experiences.

James Carr