Following on from one of our recent blog A Waterfall Begins From Only One Drop of Water TeamKinetic wanted to continue sharing inspirational stories. We recently spoke with Denise Larrad, BBC Get Inspired Unsung Hero Award Winner at the Sports Personality of the Year 2017 ceremony. TeamKinetic is excited to announce she will be joining us at our 5th annual conference, with more details to be confirmed. First, we wanted to share her inspirational story:

Who is Denise Larrad?

A mother of two, 56-year-old Denise Larrad was selected to be a torchbearer for the Olympic Torch Relay at the 2012 Games. She was selected for her outstanding contribution to fundraising work by Asda, her employer. After being chosen to carry the Torch for the Games Denise had one sole aim – to get the people of Hinckley, Leicestershire, active.

Despite working night shifts in a warehouse, she finds time to help lead walking, orienteering, running and general fitness classes for children, families and the elderly. With a host of different activities and exercises sessions, Denise motivates and nurtures participants to be more active.

She is a trained walk leader, putting on weekly sessions for the elderly on behalf of the charity Age UK and also organises orienteering courses across the borough in town parks, woodlands and schools.

Tell me a little bit about how you got started as a volunteer?

I can’t tell you how I felt when I got this little red box with a running man in it.  It said ”you have been chosen as one of the Olympic torch bearers”.  Can you imagine how that makes you feel, you know. It was such a huge honour. Following then, I really wanted to give something back to the people of Hinckley.

How did you end up carrying the Olympic torch? 

I’ve always been a runner, I’ve run marathons and climbed up Kilimanjaro with Martina Navratilova and Gail Emms. But usually, it is just me, as there has been no need to involve anybody else. That’s why I got nominated to carry the torch.

I ran the relay with Sebastian Coe through Sheffield on the 25th June, it was brilliant. I thought to myself, I’m not going to miss this opportunity, so asked him for his autograph.

Once I had carried the flame, I came back feeling inspired and motivated by it all, to go do something within my community. I went to the Local Council and told someone there how I wanted to get the people of Hinckley moving.  The person I spoke to put me on run leader, walk leader and orienteering explorer training, so she provided me with the training for it all. I have also become a cycle leader.

What do you think is behind your continuing motivation to volunteer within your community?

I think it is what I am passionate most about, the walking, the running and general act of getting people more active. Having achieved everything so far and to receive national recognition, it’s certainly something I want to continue pursuing and hopefully take a little bit field in the future.

Were you a member of a club before you started volunteering?

No, I used to just run by myself. I never went with anybody.  Somebody on my Sport Personality video said “she’s like a dynamo, she never stops” that’s me.

What do you think society at large can do to improve people’s outcomes with these things?

This is the difficult one.  I think having someone like me helps, you need someone who is passionate and really keen to get people moving, working in the community and willing to facilitate it all. Paid and volunteer working together, a combination of both.

All our groups are welcoming, friendly and bubbly. Once people come, they want to come back again. We have a Facebook page where people can join the 140 members, I get about 50 to 60 participants each week.

Did you/do you have support from any other organisations?

I have support from the council, mainly from the Cultural Services and the Sports Development Team. If I have any questions, concerns or need stuff printing then they provide support. But on a day to day basis it is just me, but thats okay as were pretty much self-promoted.

Did you/do you have support from any other volunteers?

No not really, I’m a one-woman crusade.  Just me.

What do you think is the key to building stronger communities and clubs?
The thing for me is the passion. I absolutely love what I do, there is nothing I like better than getting people moving, nothing at all. It’s what gets me up every morning and keeps me going.  I’m a very enthusiastic person and optimistic, glass half full.  Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same.  If they lack the passion, then they are less likely to continue participating or contributing.

Getting other people involved is key, but it bring its own challenges with it. You have to find the right people to share that passion with, nurture and train them, that’s what happened to me. Although the council trained me, it was not something they previously offered out, it was because I asked.  We have had others in my group become leaders, but they are yet to do something with it.

What do you think puts people off volunteering?

This is something I recently discussed at another conference, I think it’s time. It is going to take so much of their week away and they haven’t got the time.  We said if you can break the volunteering down into manageable chunks, so it is not all just one person doing everything and other people are sharing the load.

What do you think makes volunteers happy, how should you look after and reward them?

It’s sharing their passion.  Its sharing and helping people. Getting comments on Facebook, “I could never have done that half marathon Denise, without your help.” Things like that where you know you’ve made a difference.

I don’t think volunteers do volunteering for rewards.  I really don’t.  Prior to this year, I had never received any awards or anything, and it hasn’t stopped me for wanting to do it. It is not about the rewards it’s just to get people more active, Knowing you have done that and making a difference is the reward that is the bottom line for me.

It doesn’t have to be a free t-shirt or whatever. Unfortunately, sometimes the simplest acts can be the most rewarding or damaging.

On one occasion, I unfortunately had an experienced that made me very close to stopping everything I did. I felt undervalued and hurt during a photo shoot for a local organisation I am a run leader for.

There was myself who has been leading runs for five years and another run leader who has been leading runs for six months, we had both been asked to bring along some people for the shoot. I arrived with nineteen others, whilst the other lady, who happened to be about twenty years younger than me had bought two.

Now the photographer pretty much completely ignored me.  This lady was given a run leader vest for the shoot and I never received one. It felt so unfair, it made me feel horrible. I’m 56, no spring chicken and I’m not a super model but I was made to feel completely and utterly unwanted. It made me feel like I was completely worthless, you come away from that type of experience thinking I’m jacking this in. This sort of thing, a lack of recognition, can be more damaging and make volunteers feel worthless.  In that 1 hour photo shoot, they could have ruined 5 years of run leading.

The reality is I’m facilitating people, they are the ones who come out doors on a cold wet night and actually do it. I just keep reminding myself about that.  They make the decision that they are actually going to come and in return I will continue my commitment to them.

What are your future plans for your voluntary work?

I want to get this message out to as many people as possible, I want to share the joy of volunteering, what you can get out of it.  I want to do as much as I can whilst I am the unsung hero this year to get this message across.  I’m going to carry on doing what I’ve been doing in Hinckley, I’m not going to stop that.

I’ve got a meeting with the head of the council on Thursday to look how we can take some of this stuff a little bit further and I’m hoping to set up a charity in Hinckley to get some activity evenings in the summer for families and kids, so they can come 5 till 7 in a local park where we can do lots of fun things that involve moving about.  If you can get them young as children and involve the family, it sets them up for life.”

This insightful interview with Dennise Larrad, demonstrates the willingness and potential volunteers have with the right spark to ignite their passion. As the unsung hero, Denise represents the positive influence that one person can have in their community. With little support she has helped hundreds of people to become more active, improving their wellbeing and health. She is eager to continue her work and TeamKientic is excited to hear more about her journey in our 5th annual conference.

If you would like to know more about  TeamKinetic, volunteer management or anything discussed in this blog, feel free to get in touch.