Other than a couple of years on the Charity Committee at St Mary’s whilst in the Sixth Form, I had reached my early twenties without giving too much thought or time to the well-being of others outside my immediate family set. In 1987 philanthropy and altruism were a long way down life’s list of priorities. At the time, I had just finished Rock: Day By Day for Guinness and had sold, or was in the process of selling the idea of Bits and Pieces to Penguin. Either way, the advance I received would not keep me in booze for six months, so some sort of employment was necessary. My mum spotted the sign in Cuffley Motors as she walked by to her own job every day, so in January 1987 I became a pump-jockey serving petrol to Cuffley’s finest all-day. In many ways it would be one of the best jobs of my life, but today I want to focus on the man who shared the job with me. The rota was split in two – 7am-1pm and 1pm-7pm six days a week, alternate weeks. My oppo was a local chap, well-known to many though not previously to me. His name, Richard Gentle. Of him, we will learn much more in due course but today is about me. Today is about how, by October of 1987, Richard had left the garage and reopened the Youth Club across the road. It’s about how he persuaded me to leave behind my selfish past and start to do things for other people. Actually, that last bit isn’t strictly true at all. I was earning £100 a week on the pumps (Though there ways to supplement that income, nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and Richard offered me £17 a week on top of that to come and play pool with the youth club members for a couple of hours each week. Remember when local authorities had money?
And so I started off as a Youth Assistant one evening a week. It was actually 2.5 hours if I remember correctly. The ‘kids’ weren’t much older than me. This was actually quite fun. So much so, that a few weeks later and I was doing a second night down the club, unpaid. The following year we did our first pantomime; soon we arranged the first trip to Talbot House; there were sponsored walks; all sorts of events and activities. By the end of the decade I was sucked in head and foot. And in fact, I became entirely voluntary. At the time, to get our session fee paid, we had to complete a horrible computer form. We had to shade in boxes demonstrating how much time we spent “Interacting with the young people” and such like. I couldn’t be done with it and told Richard to take me off the books. I would still come, just not get paid for it. The only problem with that was, a few short weeks later, Richard had somehow charmed me into filling in his computer forms every week so I had all the bureaucracy and none of the money!
I became completely addicted to working at the Youth Club. I was computer specialist; compiled a newsletter (There’s a copy of Issue 1 from Spring 1989 by the side of me as I write); helped produce the pantomimes; run holidays. I even used to work with this strange Toc H group who invaded our centre with some regularity. Finally, I even ended up on the committee. And up until the day Richard died, that’s the way it was. Then John Burgess reeled me in and Toc H started to get the fruit of my dedication.
I can’t tell you how much this changed my life. As well as volunteering for more than 20 years now and for perhaps 10 different organisations, I have worked professionally in the sector since 2005 and still deliver training on different aspects. I’ve met so many wonderful people through volunteering and learnt so much. And all of this, so I could get an extra £17 a week playing pool.