Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland
By our Anonymous Blogger
This week I thought it would be a good idea to look at ‘community’ voluntary roles, whereby people offer their help to deliver a better quality of life within their own community. One such person is Rosemary Theobalds – a resident and volunteer in Hexham.
Rosemary has a large family and whilst her children were young she became involved in the Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) but sadly, around the time when her children began to leave home to take up job opportunities and University, Rosemary lost her husband. So, as a widow and after years of being a busy Mum and looking after her family, Rosemary felt she needed to get more involved in her local community. Rosemary said she has always “loved Hexham” and has “always felt privileged to live here”, so it is not surprising that she felt motivated to express her thanks by improving the quality of life for her fellow town’s folk.
Hexham Partnership (which grew out of The Better Towns Initiative) was set up in the 1990’s to make Hexham a more ‘vibrant, enterprising and adaptable market town for local residents, businesses and visitors’. Around this time, and as a representative of ‘Churches Together’, Rosemary volunteered to be on the Board, saying that as a former Youth and Community Governor of Queen Elizabeth High School “it was a natural progression to become involved in the Hexham Community Partnership”.
Rosemary’s volunteering experiences over the years have not only concerned her Board work, but have involved practical work as well as Regeneration and Events with the Partnership. For instance, she regularly drives for the Social Eyes Lunch Club for blind and partially sighted people and twice a year drives and hosts the monthly Contact the Elderly Tea Party. Whatever her role has been however, she has always been made to feel very welcome by organisations and other volunteers. Indeed, just as she feels her motivation has always been to help others, so she feels others have helped her.
Being such a busy volunteer means that Rosemary has faced many challenges. However, she feels that her time management, although much improved, has been her biggest single issue, especially when it comes to “double booking” her time. Nevertheless, other challenges have also had more positive effects upon Rosemary’s self-development. She is now less reserved and willing to ‘step up’ and have her face in the local paper, for instance. She also understands how Community and Voluntary organisations work, has learnt about employment law and confidentiality issues as well as data protection legislation. Because Rosemary is involved in a number of projects she also feels valued as a ‘networker’, as someone who can connect people. “People tend to contact me,” she says, “if they want to know something, or who to contact”.
Rosemary was also heavily involved in the preparations for Hexham’s annual SPOOK NIGHT to celebrate Halloween. This event brings money into the town, brings the town together and entertains the children and their parents. It has included a Ghost Walk (by students) to the Abbey, a Witches Den, Stalls, and a Fancy Dress Competition as well as a Fun Fair. Although the event started very small in Hexham Market, it has now grown to include Belmont Street, which is now closed especially for the event, and now takes up a huge chunk of the Abbey grounds including the bandstand.
Although the event is ably coordinated by HCP staff, volunteers work alongside and support staff on Spook Night and other community events, such as the Christmas market. So much so that Rosemary is of the firm opinion that this and other events would not take place if it were not for the volunteers. Indeed, they man and set up stalls, they take publicity to businesses and tie up posters around the town, as well as helping with the road closures and the Event Control Stall. Afterwards they also help in the cleaning up process. Volunteers also acquire the prizes from local businesses. Queens Hall Theatre for instance donates a family Pantomime ticket each year and the Forum Cinema (owned by the Community Partnership) also donates tickets. Other businesses in the town also generously donate vouchers in support of this event.
When asked what THE most positive thing about her volunteering has been, Rosemary said that being allowed to express her gratitude to her townsfolk by giving back to her local community was very rewarding.