Being a Volunteer Gives You Lots of New Experiences

Robin Cattle, in his sixties and living in Welwyn Garden City, is a volunteer driver. For over thirty years, he sat behind a desk when he worked in banking. Now that he has retired, he has decided that he wants to do practical tasks. He told me that “in my early life, practical skills did not come naturally.” However, he has discovered that being a volunteer provides lots of opportunities to broaden his experience – and to be practical.

Today, Robin spends a lot of his time driving not just for Communities 1st, but also as a volunteer for the Welwyn Hatfield Community Car Service, and for Jubilee House Care Home where he has a part-time job. 


Driving Communities 1st's large vehicles

“I hadn’t done much driving before but now I drive for three organisations!” he reflected. “Because I drive the Communities 1st big vehicles, which can take as many as sixteen passengers, the work I do for them is different from the others. I really enjoy the challenges of the big vehicles although I was a bit nervous to begin with! I had never driven the large vehicles before, even though I had the right driving licence. I had a practice run, which went well, and I was off.”

Since that first practice drive, Robin’s volunteering has led to many different experiences. He started with Communities 1st in 2020. During the pandemic the work was very varied – there were fewer hospital appointments and much more shopping. He also drove nurses to people’s homes to vaccinate the vulnerable.

During COVID, Robin also worked with a food bank. He delivered food parcels. He now takes a chap every Wednesday to the food bank so that he can choose his own foods.  Robin picks him up at nine in the morning, drops him off for thirty minutes, and then takes him home.   The gentleman, who has learning difficulties, welcomes Robin’s support. Robin helped him when he moved home and shared his experience of gardening.

Robin has found the jobs to be very varied

In 2021, Robin started supporting Afghan refugees. He would drive the families on outings, taking children to swimming and to football. He is now working on the International Recruits project. This was previously the International Nurses project but it now includes a wider range of professionals. Clearly, what Robin does is so much more than the driving. He commented “You get to know the people that you drive. You chat and find out how they are. That’s very nice.”

Robin is also taking elderly people to a Sunday club in Borehamwood at the Maxwell Community Centre. He collects them from their homes in the twelve-seater vehicle, takes them to the community centre, and then he will stay with them before taking them home.  Robin will join in the activities which include singalongs, quizzes, games, raffles, tea and cakes, and different entertainments. This is a good example of a partnership between the charity running the club and Communities 1st who help with the transport.

Robin’s work with the International Recruits Project is varied. He has taken groups on outings to places both locally, like to Stanborough Lakes, St Albans, and Brent Cross, and further afield. Robin enjoys these trips because he too gets to see the places. He observed, “Windsor Castle is a remarkable place, and I really enjoyed our visit. There’s a lot more to Windsor – there’s also the river, the park, and the shops. I think our trip to Windsor was very much enjoyed by everyone.”

Shopper Bus

The history man

Robin enjoys history and when he drives places, he will often find that he has time to explore this interest. “I’d often seen the skyline of St Paul’s Cathedral but never been inside,” he confided. “Until, that is, I drove someone to Moorfields Eye Hospital and while they were being treated, I took myself off to the cathedral for a visit. Magnificent!” When he took a patient to the Royal Free Hospital, he was able to find time to go for a walk on Hampstead Heath.”

As part of the International Recruits Project, Robin recently picked up a nurse from Heathrow Airport. “The chap arrived with his wife, a small baby, and six suitcases! They had travelled from the Maldives.” Robin will go the extra mile!  When the nurse arrived, he was staying in Welwyn Garden City, but he knew nothing about the area. So, Robin took him out and showed him how to get to the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital by public transport.

Being part of the Communities 1st team

For Robin being a volunteer driver is very satisfying. He likes to be busy and to be useful. He commented that being “a volunteer you get lots of varied things to do and you get to know lots of people.” Knowing that his driving can be a lifeline, means that Robin can find it difficult to say no when he receives a request to do a job. “I know it’s right to strike a balance between one’s personal, volunteering, and working life,” he explained. “I have twin daughters, now grown up, who I like to see regularly. I also try to help my 90-year-old mother-in-law. I like to keep fit and enjoy running - I ran the London Marathon for Leukaemia Care.”

Being busy, of course, means that you can’t always be available, but he feels he is well supported by the Communities 1st staff who are always helpful and brief him fully on the jobs that he does. “I feel part of the wider team, which is nice, and I would encourage anyone to think about becoming a volunteer driver. For the right person, it’s hugely rewarding.”    

Written by: Chris Cloke, Communities 1st Volunteer