Friday, 30 October 2015

Let's celebrate volunteers, the heartbeat of our community - my Catholic Universe column

Being sports fans my children and I were pretty excited to discover last Christmas morning that Santa Claus has delivered to us season tickets to watch this year’s three NFL American Football matches to be played at Wembley Stadium.

A couple of weeks ago me and my sons joined 80,000 other fans to watch the high flying New York Jets beat the Miami Dolphins and this week, quite possibly as you are reading this column, we are heading back down to London for another sell out tantalising matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills (note: if any of you are big Gridiron fanatics I do realise that a game between the Jags and the Bills is anything but tantalising).

Two weeks ago was my first trip to the new Wembley Stadium and it is amazing but my word, it’s expensive. Our ‘cheap’ tickets had a face value of £55, parking £30, hotdogs £8 each and the obligatory replica shirts for my two offspring another £75 per child. The NFL was without a doubt one of the most costly family trips we’ve ever been on. This week I shall be packing sandwiches.

Still, we like sport and we like to see it whenever and wherever we can live. Fortunately not all sport costs the same exorbitant prices as NFL or an international football match. Take a look much closer to home and you will often find engrossing and highly entertaining games which aren’t going to break the bank.

From late April to early September my whole family could regularly be found at Grace Road, home of Leicestershire County Cricket Club, loving every moment of the explosive Twenty20 matches or enjoying the long summer days during a County Championship game. A whole summer of sport, around 30 days, for just £200. Marvellous.

Last weekend as a family we were looking for something to do and after checking on the internet we realised that the Basketball season had started once again and the undefeated Leicester Riders, a big name in British Basketball, were playing at home to the Manchester Giants.

I checked if seats were available and indeed they were and ordered a family ticket for the five of us sat just two rows behind the Manchester player’s bench.

Being so close to the action in a professional sporting tie is a great thrill for the children but as an adult can be a little off putting. The problem is that after running around for 48 minutes the ever alternating giants of players can be, how shall I put this nicely, a little pungent. But in a stroke of good fortune, or maybe they just weren’t working hard enough, the Manchester squad remained fragrant throughout. We had a wonderful time.

How much I ask would similar seats have cost us at Old Trafford or the Emirates? I dread to think but in Basketball being so close to the action cost the much less princely sum of £37. For all five of us.

I can rail on for hours and hours about how affordable high quality, professional sport can be if you know where to look. If I had chosen to at the same time as the Basketball was being played in Loughborough I could have taken the short trip up the road to watch Nottingham Panthers ice hockey squad take on their arch rival Sheffield Steelers for a similar price, but the match was sold out.

A lot of people are already in on the secret that away from football and possibly rugby union a great deal of sport can be enjoyed at very affordable prices.

But strangely today this column isn’t about sport but rather about one of the things that makes it so accessible. The volunteers.

All too often British professional sporting clubs are run on a shoestring. Many lose money and without the input of finance from governing bodies who have access to the wider television and sponsorship funding they would simply fold.

But go along to any professional basketball, cricket or ice hockey match and you will see people giving of their time and effort to make their club viable in the long term.

It struck me that all the razzmatazz I saw at Wembley was there on display as I watched the basketball. There was the ticket office, the merchandise, the hotdogs, the raffle tickets and even the cheerleaders and drummers but instead of them being delivered by someone in a high vis uniform those invaluable jobs in a sporting event were being carried out by mums, dads, children and grannies and grandads simply proud to be wearing a Leicester Riders polo shirt.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of our society.
In my electoral division there is a group called Friends of Thringstone, just one of many organisations I could use to highlight my point. The Friends aim is to promote the environment of the village and to preserve and promote its history for the benefit of residents and visitors and, my word, this group of volunteers do it with style.

In 2011 these extraordinary men and women were awarded the Queens Award for voluntary service. Earlier this year they were the recipients of the Keep Britain Tidy Diamond Jubilee award for ‘The Big Tidy Up’. But more importantly their real achievement is the pride they take in their community and in making their village a better place to live.

The awards would mean nothing if they were not accompanied by action and last weekend whilst many of us were lying in our beds the Friends of Thringstone were out in the village planting 2,000 spring flowering bulbs so that after a long winter their community would start the new year with a vibrant show of colour.

Next spring most people won’t even realise why their village looks so pleasant, they will simply take it for granted that it does, but without dedicated volunteers giving their time with humility so much that we all take for granted just would not happen.

How many of our parishes are kept afloat by a small group of people polishing brasses, arranging flowers and organising fund raising events?

How many in the congregation even consider that they are all jobs which need to be done but never give a second thought to doing them themselves?

The truth is without volunteers much of what we treasure in our communities would never happen. We wouldn’t have the sports clubs, scouts or army cadets that help develop our young people, we wouldn’t have the luncheon clubs for our older people and much of what is done in our parishes would be simply left undone.

So, here is a call.

There is a good chance if you are reading this that you already volunteer in your community (I like to think of Catholic Universe readers as people who ‘Do’), but in the very small possibility that you don’t right now please think about how you can help.

We can all say that we’re simply too busy but the truth is there isn’t one of us out there who doesn’t already benefit in some way from the work that volunteers do.

Even if it is just an hour here or there please ask yourself ‘How can I do my bit?’

I will guarantee that you will make our world a slightly better place to live.

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