“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
– President Barack Obama.
Volunteers Week is always a passionate time for me, as I reflect on what I have achieved as a volunteer and what more work I can achieve in the future. I have dedicated a huge chunk of my adult life to volunteering in the public sector and I wanted to share my journey and motivations in the hope you can be inspired to make good things happen.
It was 07:45 in the morning in the village of Auchterhouse, just north of Dundee in Scotland. My Father has just woken up and offered to make my Mother breakfast in bed to celebrate the start of a glorious weekend. He got up, walked three paces, and dropped like a stone. My Father had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest that was to lead to his death that morning. My Father’s death had a profound effect on me, but I could never have conceived the changes that have dominated my, and my family life, since then.
That fateful day my Mum rang 999 and like most of us expected that the ambulance service would be with her in a few minutes and resuscitate my Dad. However, being in a rural community the reality was that it was almost 45-minutes before the ambulance arrived. Looking for someone to blame for his death, I focussed on what I perceived to be a failing on the part of the Government. I started to research the challenges that faced the NHS and this started my public-service volunteering journey that is still ongoing some 21-years later.
In early 1997 I wrote a paper which I believed would offer a solution to the NHS to help meet the challenge of out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests. The initial solution, was to introduce dynamic teams of volunteers from the military who could be utilised to “plug the gaps” in cover as demand outstripped the regular ambulance resource. The second phase of the plan was to use lay persons to respond to 999 calls in their own localities. I sent this paper to everyone whom I believed had influence and in Summer 1997 my persistence paid off; I was seconded from the RAF to the NHS to make my plan a reality.
“What does a Pilot know about Ambulance Services, the plan is a nonsense”
– TU Representative August 1997
During my first-week of working within the NHS it became apparent that whilst my plan may have been entirely sound, and in the interests of the patients, there would need to be a significant cultural shift to embrace the concept of volunteers augmenting 999 provision. Influencing this change and combining two polarised groups was one of the hardest things I have ever done. However, three-days after the birth of my daughter in October 1997 the UKs original First Responder scheme was launched at the RAF College Cranwell in Lincolnshire. This proved to many that despite being a Pilot; passion, persistence, perseverance, and productive partnerships with key stakeholders made the project a success.
This was the birth of the First Responder movement in the UK and from this little acorn a national network of tens of thousands of volunteers has been established. These committed community volunteers save countless lives every single day. The dynamic schemes that are predominantly staffed by military personnel still exist across the UK and are an important link in the chain of survival. These schemes will always be close to my heart and I am privileged to be invited from time-to-time to celebrate their continued successes. I have had some spectacular opportunities given to me by volunteering with the NHS and supporting the 2012 Games was undoubtedly a highlight. However, my own personal triumph during this almost 17-years of volunteering for the NHS was setting up the first scheme in Scotland and placing a community defibrillator in the village of Auchterhouse. The NHS now understands and embraces the value that volunteers can bring to the organisation to enhance the chances of patient survival in those most important minutes after a critical event. I am very proud to have played a small part in starting them on that journey and having left an enduring legacy that rose from personal tragedy.
Volunteering and Policing
In 2014 a chance meeting highlighted to me a volunteering challenge that was literally on my doorstep. I had heard of the Special Constabulary but had never heard of the wider Citizens in Policing volunteering opportunities offered by the police. Locally the organisation was in decline and I was eager for a new challenge; after a short meeting with the Chief Constable I started a new journey as a police volunteer.
In general, the police service is very inconsistent in how it treats and values the contribution of its volunteers; some are very good and some are less so. When I started at Wiltshire Police I am sure all would have agreed there was significant room for improvement in volunteer management. Over the past three-years I have worked with the support of the Chief Constable, the Senior Command Team and the Police and Crime Commissioner to develop a vision for volunteering that adds real value to the community whilst developing the individuals. This has involved significant investment and innovative thought into how we attract, recruit, train and retain these valued volunteers. This vision and investment has afforded the ability to build the foundation for an organisation that is thriving. Have we got it correct? Only time will tell, but we have at least taken the first bold step to challenge the norms and start the journey, rather than just waiting for good things to happen.
Unlike the NHS, I think the police service is yet to embrace the full latent potential that volunteers can bring to the service. Harnessing this isn’t about “policing on the cheap” as it was recently described, but enhancing the current offering with skills and support not organically within policing. A recent example of this would be when I used my aviation expertise to launch a police UAV Team. In part I think the lack of impetus is due to the national portfolio not having a strategic and dedicated leader to solely lead on this. This is not a criticism but rather the harsh reality of the ever-increasing demands on senior leaders in the police. In my opinion investing in this role will help to realise Robert Peels vision of “the police are the public and the public are the police”.
I have never felt so challenged as I am within my role as a police volunteer. Every day is different, some days I might be writing policy and others I might find myself in a muddy field in the middle of the night searching for a vulnerable missing person. I revel in the eclectic nature of the challenges and in some way doing my personal bit to make my community safer for all. Being a policing volunteer or Special Constable is often seen negatively but honestly, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else with my spare time.
The Hidden Volunteers
My wife Sharon is one of the most understanding people on the planet and is the love of my life and my rock. Sharon and my children have actively supported me in all my “mad ideas” and ventures and they have sacrificed much to support my passion for volunteering. Without their support, I would not have had the opportunities to do the things I have achieved and give vast amounts of my time to volunteering that I have (190 hours last month alone). These are the hidden volunteers who give their time to the cause without even knowing it. To them I am eternally grateful. Love you All.
I hope that this blog has given you an insight into my volunteer journey and the motivation behind my commitment to make volunteering in the public sector accessible and rewarding for all. I have experienced tragedy, death, frustration, tears (of joy and sadness), elation and a huge amount of satisfaction on my volunteer journey. We all have time to give and my advice to you is echoed in the words of President Obama, “If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope”