Celebrating Volunteers' Week: people give up their time to make a difference

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Every day, volunteers make a huge difference to their communities. To learn more and get inspired, read a volunteering story from Southampton Athletics Club member and #RunAndTalk Mental Health Champion Rob Shenton below.

Why is volunteering so important?

I have always realised that giving something back was important. Whether it be donating money to a good cause or helping a friend out. In fact, ‘give’ is one of the five steps to wellbeing, the others being: stay active; keep learning; take notice; and connect. I often say if you can’t give anything, give a smile. The simple act of a smile will make you feel better, but it may brighten someone’s day.

On a wider scale if you join an organisation and volunteer, it will probably hit all areas of wellbeing, and you will certainly be connecting with others.  For me, volunteering has given me so much more. First, if it weren’t for volunteers my life would be so much darker, lonely and desperate. My first real encounter with the power of volunteering was when I was in the most need. After 25 years in uniform, I was medically discharged from the Army in 2016. I never thought I would need to, but I ended up turning to a charity for support. Help for Heroes literally picked me up and helped me out. If it were not for the volunteers who give up their time to fundraise for the charity, that vital support would not have been there. This is just one example of what goes on across the country every day, every week throughout the year and all of us reap the benefit in some way.

Sports events would not happen it was not for volunteers. From officials to timekeepers, from marshals to coaches. The military taught me always to pay forward the favour, so if someone helps you out, when you can you help someone else out.

I started volunteering as a marshal at a local running event. I got that connection and comradery from the other marshals. The banter was fun and uplifting and created a great community feel. I felt happy and safe. It sounds madness, but it was certainly worth getting out of bed at 05:30 on a Saturday morning to stand in a wet field by 09:00 for the first runner to come past. Selfless acts like this may go unnoticed. Be it that person telling you where to park your car at an event or giving you your medal at the end. But as a country we need it. Athletics clubs across the country are no different. From the chair to the coach, the track starter to the person working on the tea stall. They create that environment and that community. Not just the place where you want to go every week to train and compete, but that environment where the volunteers want to come back every week because without them the club is nothing. My journey to my club started with Help for Heroes, they encouraged me back to sport. I tried to get into the Invictus Games and although not successful, sport was back in my life.

My club is Southampton AC and we are blessed with some great volunteers that are simply the life blood of the club. Our chair was recognised by England Athletics as Volunteer of the Year for the South East in 2020, and that spirit filters down. The coaches in my small part of the club, like the rest, are excellent. They go above and beyond every time. It’s not just devising an original and engaging training programme, it’s caring for each athlete and making them feel special. Last year I had a major accident and one of the coaches came and spent the day with me. What made that even more special was he did a 400-mile round trip just to do that. This sort of dedication encourages me to ‘pay it forward’. I am getting involved with a new club initiative of creating mental health champions in establishing a regular #RunAndTalk event.

Volunteers have saved me, helped me and inspired me. Hopefully the #RunAndTalk events will do the same for others. If you can give, do so. If you can’t then give a smile, especially to a volunteer.

About Rob:

Runner in snow

Rob Shenton spent 25 years in the army and was medically discharged with recurrent depression and PTSD. He is an England Athletics #RunAndTalk Mental Health Champion for the RunTogether initiative as well as being charity ambassador for Help for Heroes. He is also a strong supporter of armed forces veterans, running and supporting numerous work-based veteran support groups. He enjoys running and orienteering. He has run the Marathon Des Sables, Everest Marathon and North Pole Marathon to raise funds for charity in honour of his father who died of lung cancer in 2009.

Rob started running on the track at Southampton Athletics Club in 2018 with the aim of being selected for the Invictus Games. Whilst he still dreams of being selected, he keeps his track running up, now focusing on the 1500m event. Before the accident Rob use to get outdoors every day to run. His running streak ended due to the accident on 1 August 2020 after 1,314 days. He has since started this again and has now run every day since the 27 November 2020.

His describes his aims for 2021 as modest: To recover from the injury and get as much rehab as possible, get back to doing a triathlon – though he will be riding recumbent now as his neck elevation is too poor for a normal road bike, and get a PB at 1500m. As part of the #RunAndTalk programme, we aim to establish a network of volunteers across RunTogether groups and clubs in England.


'Celebrating volunteers' continues to be a key part of England Athletics’ work as highlighted in its new 12-year strategy to deliver highly-rated, quality annual events to increase engagement with its family of member clubs and athletes.

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