The Blog

Volunteering Virgin

It's my first foray into the world of volunteering since I was an adolescent. That sounds awful, especially as these days I'm in the dreaded middle age category on drop down menus, but I guess it's better late than never.

Today I am disproportionately delighted about a micro fleece top. Not any old fleece top, but a very fancy Rugby World Cup one. I've also been given a polo shirt, a rugby shirt, a waterproof coat, combat trousers, socks, shoes, a frighteningly bright yellow hat, a nifty little backpack and even a cool bag for my sandwiches. Around my neck is a magical pass that will be my access key to some of the restricted areas (ok, the car park and drop off points, the pitch remains strictly off limits) and in two weeks time, I'm going to be hitting the Capital's streets as a volunteer fleet driver.

It's my first foray into the world of volunteering since I was an adolescent. That sounds awful, especially as these days I'm in the dreaded middle age category on drop down menus, but I guess it's better late than never. It's been on my 'mean to do', 'haven't got the time to do', 'don't have the confidence to do' and the 'wish I'd done that' lists for some time, and I'm delighted that I summoned the courage to apply, and more importantly, England 2015 have given me the chance.

Life and time both has an unfortunate habit of running away from us and it's easy to let opportunities pass without even realising. Being preoccupied and busy with work has attributed to this in my case, and it's taken several painfully crippling episodes of depression to make me realise that work will never love me back no matter how much time and energy I throw at it. Over the past couple of years, a gradual dawning has become a conscious thought and that is that I will now only work to live rather than the other way around. My parents are getting older and frailer, I'm exhausted from weathering storms of change in my 20 years of NHS service and I just want to make the most of my life with the people that I love. This new maxim also includes pushing myself to do things that I want to do but have never had the time or self belief to do.

Ironically I applied to join the Pack, the RWC's volunteer workforce at a time when I was suffering from a relapse of clinical depression. I'd driven past Twickenham stadium so often clocking the big banner for volunteering. It wasn't until I was dawdling home after seeing the shrink that the idea of applying actually stuck.

The application form took me almost a week. Not because it was long or complicated but because my depressed brain was like mush and the depressive demons were nagging away that it was a pointless exercise as I was so bloody useless. But I plugged away at it because I love rugby union with great passion and because, no matter how crap and useless I felt, I wanted to help, albeit in a tiny way, to make it a success. I did feel a huge sense of achievement when I finally clicked submit. What would normally take me an hour tops had taken a week but I'd done it none the less.

After a long wait, during which time the demons had thankfully retreated back into their misery cave for longer periods, I was invited to a try out. It was an overwhelming and exciting event. Overwhelming because out of the 10k of shortlisted applicants, only 6k would be required. Overwhelming because I knew nobody and felt like the new girl at big school. Far outweighing this was the excitement of making it that far and meeting people of all ages, backgrounds, races, shapes and sizes. Exciting because it's a world event in a sport that I adore and that the organisers were so fired up with enthusiasm. I left the session aching to be a part of it.

Three months later, I got the news that I'd been accepted. Words can't really capture or convey the excitement, delight and sense of pride that I felt. The first training event where all of the Pack gathered at MK stadium was daunting to attend alone -but within minutes of taking my seat, I found myself chatting and laughing with a bunch of complete strangers who felt like old mates by the end of the day. There was a inferno of energy and collective spirit that day at Milton Keynes and the flame has burnt brightly in since then. I've gone on to meet lots of other incredible people and learn more about the tournament, the Pack itself and my role within it. It's been fantastic to meet fellow rugby devotees, and even the majority of the 'serial volunteers' who collect events like stamps have been a source of wisdom and fun. Yes, there have been the odd few who are motivated by the perceived kudos of it all, and yes a few who I wouldn't choose to spend time with, but the overall experience has given me a new sense of purpose, value, self belief and pride. The organisers have used a lot of imagination and skill in building a team, fostering a positive spirit, turning the most mundane training into informative fun and most importantly, making people feel valued and appreciated for being there.

Of course, the next step is the biggest and most crucial one - the tournament itself. A new set of anxieties bob up and down in my head - what if I dent the swanky new Land Rover I'm driving or lose a VIP guest or whatever- but these are natural feelings as I prepare to step (or drive) into a totally new experience and somehow I feel that it's going to be ok, that there's a big team who've got my back if I need them and that this is going to be a fun and unforgettable experience.

Volunteering for such an event already feels like such a privilege and may just be a positive game changer for getting back on my feet after a few tough years of mental health snakes and ladders. If it does, I'll be lobbying for it on prescription.

I'll keep you posted...