LOCKDOWN BLOG ‘A’ VOLUNTEER. Part Two by Tony. B (SOAR Social Café Volunteer)

So on to the fun side and reason for this blog. As I said I started volunteering early not because my parents did because they didn’t, so where it came from if it’s not in my genes. I’m not going to list all my voluntary work over the last 50+ years but give you a few of the ones that stand out. 

My first session of voluntary work, if you can call it that, was for The Little Theatre on Shipton St, (where Zest is now). Back in the 1960s, it was just a narrow lane, (unfortunately, the only photos I have are slides) this was the forerunner to the Merlin Theatre in Netheredge run by Tintagel House. Shakespeare and Chekov and all that. I helped run a youth group mainly from the parents involved. I did have a couple of walk-on parts but mainly helped backstage or upstairs with the tea and coffee, it only held 100 people.

In the early 1970s, I worked on the railway so was a member of the NUR union (now RMT) and because my father-in-law was secretary of the Sheffield Branch, I got roped in. One of my jobs was to organise a party for the retired members, which was held in the community centre on Norfolk Park (behind the Jervis Lum now gone). It consisted of Sandwiches, cakes tea and coffee with some sort of entertainment normally a sing-song. I ended up doing about 6 of them. 

At the recent Age-Friendly Awards, I was asked which was the most outstanding voluntary work you have done? It could be said that the current one (SOAR Social Café) is the best or most outstanding. After a few moments I gave my answer and it made me think of including it in this blog.

During the 1980s and 1990s, I was very active with the Independent Order of Foresters, an insurance company in the USA, Canada and UK. They are well known for their charity work and have done a lot for hurricane victims in the US. In the UK the local branches also do collections etc. During this period my predecessor Chairman of the Sheffield Branch had a brilliant idea and decided that we could try to be top branch collecting for charity. So, he found out that the travel agents had difficulty getting rid of the old holiday catalogues and his brother in law worked at the paper mill in Outibridge where he was able to get rid of them and we were paid for the paper. That was it. It started small but soon got around that we would collect the books, to such an extent we (4/5) of us every other Saturday were out in all weathers picking up books in Sheffield Chesterfield and out as far as Matlock and North Derbyshire 4 tonne at a time. Hard work but very satisfying! Over the 3 year period, we collected well over £20k for the charities. One of which was Ashgate Hospice Chesterfield where we paid for a garden to be built for the residents. Yes, we were the top branch for about 4 years. During the summer it was one week collecting the other off caravanning. Winter, it was tuxedo for a dinner dance somewhere, still got the suit, (but I don’t think I could get into it now), Leeds, Middlesbrough, Nottingham, York anywhere in the north and midlands staying overnight mostly. I did a stint of being Chair for 3 years. We put on the annual area Dinner/Dance here in Sheffield at the Octagon at the university for about 350 attending from the north and central region. 

I don’t think that I’ve had a year when I’ve not been doing some sort of voluntary work, not necessarily an organising kind for instance prior to retiring I was on a committee that changed the way people live. I know that sounds funny but when it impacts the lives of a whole estate you must be able to think about what you would want, let me explain…

In 1999 a committee was formed by the TARA in Shiregreen to investigate a Tennant Management Committee (TMO) we approached the council for permission to have a feasibility study we were helped by a company who gave us training, in 2000/01 we gave the estate (5000 properties) a vote for the TMO, unfortunately, we lost by a very small margin. While this was happening the Government at the time brought out the Decent Homes Charter. Three of the committee had been attending meetings to look at proposals being put forward by the council. Not enough money was coming our way, so it was decided to look at the stock transfer. That was what happened over 100k against 45k no contest. So, 2500 approx. houses were taken over by Sanctuary Housing.

This brings us up to date, well 2012 was when I started volunteering with SOAR. I have done various schemes but the longest is with the Social Café at the Learning Zone, Bingo and Quiz every fortnight, organised Xmas lunch at Meadow Farm 4 years, I also help at two other Café’s all of which are for people who are lonely or isolated mostly over 50.

It became known that I was available and ended up on committees for the council and Clinical Commissioning Groups one of which was the Musculoskeletal (MSK) Moving Together project. We went to a meeting at the Slone Surgery in Heeley and 4 years later I’m still in the patient group. At one time lately, I was on 17 committees until the council cut back. 

It was in 2014 that I got a phone call from Ruby Smith (never heard of her) asking if I would be interested in joining the board of Age Better in Sheffield, the rest as they say is history as I’m still here. I hope you got to the end of this blog and found it interesting!