Last Wednesday I attended the board meeting of a charity very close to my heart – The Ripple – a consciously grassroots organisation serving the Edinburgh communities of Restalrig, Lochend and Craigentinny. I was part of the group who founded it in 1996 and I’ve been in the board in various guises since. It’s an organisation focused on building community and changing lives one person at a time by helping people to help themselves. It’s something I am proud to be part of, despite my Presbyterian struggle with the very idea of being allowed to be proud of anything I do! (Cyrenians is, of course, another organisation I am proud to be part of).
It was a Ripple board meeting around 6 months ago where I had another revelation about myself. We were discussing an event to celebrate the huge contribution of the 80 plus volunteers who contribute to the life of The Ripple. Whilst planning the invite list, one of the staff members said as she waved a hand round the table: “the board – you all – should be invited too. You are all volunteers as well.”
I was taken by surprise but she was right. I was a volunteer too. It was an unexpected, pleasant realisation and a nice affirmation of my small contribution to this amazing organisation. In many ways I think I hadn’t articulated my involvement as volunteering because of my history with The Ripple, but also because what I do is simply bring what I know about nurturing a charity to the thinking of the board – it’s what I do anyway, so it didn’t feel difficult or different and it’s a huge and very fulfilling privilege and pleasure. Yet to hear it so described was a real boost to my sense of feeling good about myself.
In Cyrenians we have literally hundreds of volunteers every year – over 1000 in each of the last two years. The sum total of their volunteering hours equates to something like 50 extra staff! Amongst their number includes people who have given us a few hours over the year, some who have given many hours a week and have done so for several years, and many other volunteers in between. They come for many reasons and to do many things. If you have a skill or simply time to give we can use it. Whatever their volunteering story, the reciprocal benefits we and they receive are deep and strong. This is a win-win gift to our life at Cyrenians which is not about money, but rather about that most valuable of experiences; human flourishing.
As well as volunteering, there are many other ways in which people support us which aren’t about donating cash, valuable as cash is. Things like buying our veg bags, taking part in sponsored events, introducing us to their Corporate Social Responsibly team, taking part in a team challenge at our farm or gardens, coming to one of our Syrian Supper Clubs or masterclasses at our cook school. If that list doesn’t grab you, give us a call and we’ll find what’s right for you. And I can promise each of these will have a value way beyond the activity itself. It will be a sense of flourish – something you can never put a price on.
This is what’s behind our #AddValue campaign which suggests to people that they can fulfil their New Year’s resolutions (such as getting fit, giving back to their community, learning a new skill, eating healthily, stopping drinking) by choosing to support Cyrenians. Like I discovered with The Ripple, volunteering will tell you things about yourself you didn’t know – though I unlike me it probably won’t take you 20 plus years to recognise them!
Ewan Aitken, 17th January 2019