Michael Allen one of our 1st Year Diagnostic Radiography students, tells us about his experiences of being a volunteer for the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes who courier medical supplies around the country.
So how did this all come about?
If you had asked me to become a volunteer 5 years ago, I probably would have just let out a little snort and said something like ‘why should I work for free’. It’s easy to make statements about things you know little about. If I am honest I thought volunteering was done by retirees who helped in coffee shops at hospitals or charity shops on the high street. It appears volunteering is more popular than I thought, according to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), during August 2012 to April 2013, 44% of adults in England said they had volunteered.
One of my hobbies involves riding a motorbike, which I have happily done now for the past 20 years. After returning to the UK after a period working overseas, I realised the bike had been in the garage for nearly 12 months without use. I gave it a wash and dutifully took it for a spin to a well-known motorbike hangout where I ended up having a brew and a chat with a group of bikers. It transpired that they were volunteer blood bikers.
So what and who are Blood Bikers?
I must confess I had no idea what that a blood biker was and they explained they were a group of around 300 volunteers which served the area of Lancashire and Lake District, and helped local hospitals with an out-of-hours transport service at no cost to the NHS. On returning home I checked out their website and a seed had been planted in my mind that this could be a way of getting me off the arm chair and back on to the road again.
The next day I contacted them and said I was interested in joining. They e-mailed me back after a few days and we had a chat on the phone. They told me I would have to be assessed for rider ability and complete an induction programme. I was impressed by their professionalism, despite being a voluntary organisation A couple of weeks later after being vetted for suitability, I did my first volunteer ride transporting blood from Chorley to Preston hospitals.
One of the things they promoted was they wanted their riders to be of a high quality, and they encouraged me to take my advance motorcycle qualification, so early last year during my Foundation Year in Applied Sciences, I undertook 10 weeks advance riding tuition and passed my advanced riding test.
So, did all this hinder your studies?
The answer is definitely not! I believe it is important to get a good balance of studying and a personal life and this for me gave me personal ‘drive’. In summary, it strengthened my skill sets.
Why do you like volunteering?
There are lots of reasons; it may be the warm squidgy feeling I get from helping people, or the humility I experienced when I had a complete stranger walk up to me whilst I was delivering blood who thanked me for what I do. Apparently one of my colleagues delivered emergency blood which was needed for his daughter and undoubtedly contributed to saving her life.
However, it is because it is very rewarding personally, it expands your skill set especially skills such as communicating with people, team work and time management. You meet some amazing and brave people. You start up new friendships and it is just so enjoyable.
How does this fit in with your University life?
Well I guess it depends on the charity you choose and the role you embark on, but for me I volunteer to be on call for a 12hr shift on a Saturday daytime, which I sign up for every 2-3 weeks. As I cannot venture far when on-call I usually stay at home and allocate this waiting time for studying, sitting at my desk either revising or working on assignments. After a couple of hours waiting I might get a phone call from the controller, can you pick up some bloods from Lancaster and take them to Manchester Royal Infirmary, bike gear on and off I go, a natural break from University work.
Any advice to other students who may wish to volunteer their time?
Research the charities that interest you. I currently work as much or as little as my free time allows with no pressures on my time. It is important to remember that you are a volunteer not an employee.
Depending on the course you are studying, you could link it to your studies. e.g. helping out for Dementia UK, might get you to appreciate how to deal with x-raying a patient with dementia. Similarly, helping out for Royal National Institute of Blind give you some appreciation of how to make life a bit easier for a person being x-rayed who has a visual impairment.