Chris Bates is a volunteer for a wide variety of organisations: Lincolnshire Coast Light Railway, Horncastle History & Heritage Society, and Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and has performed so many different tasks. From train driver to media advisor to lecturer, and even UK ambassador to Tristan da Cunha, he’s done it all.
He was inspired to start volunteering when he was 12, wanting to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather as railway men. “I enjoy putting something back into society,” he says, going on to talk about loving to be along like-minded people and helping out so many communities and places.
When asked about if he would recommend volunteering to others, he had no shortage of praise for the concept. “You will always get back more than you put in. It will teach you new skills; give you confidence; make strong, enduring friendships and make others happier.”
As a man that has been volunteering for 60 years, he is a shining example of all that volunteering can offer. A full life, a sense of belonging, a place to learn, and it’s still ongoing. It’s always a source of new encounters and this story shows just how many can be packed into a single person’s experience.
From the age of 14 I have worked in different places.
When I turned 16 I began studying children and worked in nurseries from the age of 16 to 24. I worked through my NVQ level 2 and 3 in that time until I started a family and had my son who is now now 6 years old.
This was difficult to manage and I stopped working for a while. In 2016, I began volunteering for my local youth club and I set up my own stay and play sessions at the local children’s centre and I also began studying at the Open University to study early childhood and youth studies.
I have not worked fully for 6 years and this impacted my confidence and self esteem. In between this time I was offered a few shifts at a previous workplace, out of a 8 hour shift I was only there for 4 hours and I was told not to return because I was too anxious and nervous.
This knocked me back quite a lot and I thought that everything I had learnt throughout my working life was no longer there. I applied for others jobs since then but I turned them down quickly at the thought of being knocked back. I’m a single mother at University, my son has now started full time school so have a lot of time to spare.
One day I was surfing the internet and came across a site called doit.org , there was a lot of volunteering opportunities in and around the area in which I live. I came across the voluntary position for Citizens Advice in which I looked into.
This seemed exciting to me because I enjoyed helping my family and friends with paperwork and forms and finding out the unknown. I knew I could at least have a go at putting into action at Citizens Advice what I was already doing at home.
When I enquired about it, I was talked fully through the process and job description. The gentleman dealing with me understood my needs as a mother and that I was only available certain days and times. He assured me that my needs would be met fully.
I was to fill out a short application and within a week I was offered an interview at my convenience . I had not had an interview for years, the thought was daunting and worrying. I was told that the interview was nothing too formal and be wear anything that made me comfortable.
When I attended the interview I was waiting a few moments before being greeted by a polite gentleman asking me to follow him into the interview room.
I instantly felt comfortable and whilst all the other interviews I’ve had previously were very scary and formal this was very much like a normal chat and seemed super comfortable.
We talked about me and my experiences and I was explained the process in great detail. I explained my home life and what days and hours I was able to give to them.
After the interview had ended the gentleman seemed very pleased and offered me the opportunity right there!. Again, the next steps were clearly set out and I knew what I needed to do. I had the opportunity that day before I left to meet the team. I felt welcomed straight away and it was a lovely environment to be in.
Over the week before I started I had time to reflect for my first day and I honestly thought about not doing it, what if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t do it? What if i’m too nervous or anxious?
What if I fail? What if I can no longer work in a team?.
My family encouraged me to go ahead and I can honestly say its the best thing I have done in a very long time.
I have been volunteering at Citizens Advice now for 4 months, I feel like I have been here years already.