Neil


What inspired you to get involved in volunteering with Waverley Care?

I first found out about the work of Waverley Care way back near the beginning. A couple of my friends were service users at a time when being HIV positive was a death sentence. Back then, the charity offered support and a little dignity to so many people who were suffering.

Their work stuck with me and, when I retired and had a bit more time, I decided that I wanted to spend it doing some volunteering.

Today the role of Waverley Care has changed so much, and they are now supporting people with HIV and Hepatitis C to live well with the conditions. It is fantastic to be involved.


What does your volunteer role involve?

I’ve been volunteering with Waverley Care for just over a year and mainly help out on reception. Generally speaking, I’ll spend maybe 1-2 hours a week volunteering.

I’m also involved with the walking group, helping to organise regular outings for service users. We try to choose routes that are accessible, and there’s always a café involved! We try to give three options – a long walk for the fitter members, a shorter route for those who want to take it a little easier, and the chance to simply sit in the café to chat with other members of the group. There’s usually up to a dozen people who come along and it’s a great way to get out in the fresh air.

As a one off at the moment, I’m helping tutor a service user who is preparing for an exam in English as a second language. We were chatting one day and it came up that I had been an English teacher. She said she was struggling a little with her studies and I offered to help out. We meet up once a week and fingers crossed she will do well in the exam.


What do you think are the main benefits of volunteering, both for service users and for volunteers?

Whether it’s for volunteers or service users, I think that volunteering offers the chance to socialise and mix with new people.

I’ve found that there isn’t really a divide between volunteers and service users. It’s nice to just relate to people as they are, without judgement and labels.

Through volunteering I’ve made some new friends and reconnected with old ones. Before starting, I knew a few of the service users socially. I spoke to them about wanting to be a volunteer and they encouraged me to get involved.

It’s definitely a two-way process and I enjoy the interaction with people. I’ve been used to a very busy working life in a school where you’re having hundreds of exchanges with people during the course of the day. So coming in here, meeting the staff and volunteers, and feeling like part of that team is great. You’re made to feel welcome and involved – we were recently invited along on staff training which was a great gesture about the role volunteers play here.

It may sound clichéd, but I like the feeling that I’m giving something back, making a difference at a time of life where it can feel like you’re a bit redundant.


What would you say to someone who was thinking about supporting Waverley Care with their time or money?

I’d be very positive. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been really impressed by the people who work here and the work that’s done. I’d be keen to support people to do something, whether it’s practical through volunteering, or parting with their money. I can be quite persuasive when I’m roped in to bucket shaking!


Away from volunteering, what do you like to do with your time?

I’m good at keeping myself busy! I’m a keen reader, I’m quite musical and I sing in a couple of different choirs. I also like to keep fit, so I try to go to the gym a few times a week, along with some running and hill walking.

I did all of these things when I was still teaching, but obviously it had to be squeezed into evenings and weekends. Now that I’m retired, I’m very fortunate to have the time to devote to these things.


What’s your favourite book?

That’s a really difficult one. As an English teacher, I feel I should say something worthy! Of the classics, I think my favourite is Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations because it’s the one I found easiest to sell my students on. When books are written in Victorian English, it can be tough to get young people enthusiastic about it. But Great Expectations is such a stonking good story – the idea of a young man with dreams that don’t turn out as he anticipated has relevance to young people today.

At the moment, I’m reading a collection of short stories by John Boyne, an Irish writer who is probably best known for writing The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. He’s written some tremendous books both for adults and younger readers.


What’s your favourite film or TV show?

I don’t really watch a lot of TV, but hospital dramas are a bit of a guilty pleasure! I love going to the cinema, but it’s difficult to narrow it down to a favourite film. The last thing I saw was The Sense of an Ending, based on the novel by Julian Barnes, which was fantastic.


Any holiday plans for the summer?

I love travelling. I’m just back from a short trip to Madrid and I’m lucky that I can go away a few times a year to explore the world.

Over the next few months I’ll be doing some hill walking in the north of Scotland. I’m also planning a short trip to Assisi in August which I’m looking forward to.

It’s not so much a holiday but, in October, I’ll be in Malawi volunteering for the Chesney Trust. The charity was set up in 2006 to fund and build a secondary school for girls in the village of Engcongolweni. The Edinburgh Girls’ High School now provides education to 160 girls who wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity, as well as providing jobs and infrastructure that helps the whole community. The school has close ties with the Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh where I used to teach and I’ll be there for 10 weeks to help out.


If you were stranded on a desert island, what three home comforts would you bring with you?

I’d take my piano. I enjoy playing and would have plenty of time to practise. Here, there’s always other distractions, but there I could maybe become the concert pianist I’ve always dreamed of being! So the piano and music, something to listen to music on, and a pile of books.


Who inspires you?

That’s a really difficult one. I suppose I’d want to say my parents. When I was little, my family didn’t have a lot of money but the one thing my mum and dad really wanted to do was make sure that their children got a good education. It’s a similar quality that I admire about [Chesney Trust founder and CEO] Janet Chesney. She went to Malawi to volunteer in 2004 and, ever since, has made it her mission to improve the lives of young girls in Engcongolweni through access to education.