John's Story

I wasn’t the best of teenagers. I grew up poor on a rough estate and went to a particularly bad secondary school. I was forever getting in trouble - from staging a sit-in at school which resulted in the police and the media getting involved, to playing darts at the back of my lessons. I was suspended 11 times and eventually expelled at the age of 14.

Deep down I’d wanted to learn but I struggled. At school I was put at the back of the class with no help. As a result, I went looking for trouble. I’ve found out recently that I have dyslexia which explains a lot – that was never picked up at school.

During my teenage years I was frequently in trouble with the police. I was selling drugs, getting into fights, being arrested - I was on a slippery slope downwards.

At 20, I met my now wife and she changed my life. She didn’t like my lifestyle, and gave me an ultimatum. I’m so glad I chose the right path.

But even though I’d decided to change it was hard. Jobs came and went: I was a wielder, cleaner, handyman. Every time it ended with me losing my temper. I got my break when making a benefits claim. The woman on the phone was a friend of a friend, and she offered me a few weeks work experience in that government department. Weeks turned into months, and then I was offered work within their trade union - I think they needed someone with a big mouth!

I’ve always been drawn to standing up for those without a voice and so becoming a trade union official felt very natural. It was the start of giving back after how I’d been in my teens. It was strange going from that kid, as a defendant, to representing others in the same courts.

Yet I wanted to do more. After some sporadic charity work, I decided to become a volunteer listener for a mental health charity and I’ve not looked back. I wanted to offer that space for people to process their emotions and explore the options they have.

At the age of 50 I decided to make a change and after being offered redundancy from my trade union job I knew I wanted to work in the charity sector.

After a chat with a friend in the pub, I went home and applied for a job in Hestia’s volunteering team.

I was shocked when I turned up for the interview at Hestia and realised that the Head Office backed onto the primary school I went to, where my whole journey begun. It’s a massive circle. I was so content with life there at 10-years-old, and I’m so content now.

In life, I think we judge each other so quickly, but it all boils down to one thing: opportunity. Without opportunity, your life could be so different, but not everyone has that opportunity. I know I was inches away from being on a completely different path.

Even though many of the people we support at Hestia are still waiting for that opportunity, and are dealing with a crisis, they’re so keen to give back. So many of our volunteers use or have used our services. They want to make a difference for others.

Now I’m Hestia’s Volunteer Manager, and I’ve got the most privileged job in the world. I see first-hand the benefits of volunteering, and the satisfaction volunteering brings to those who do it. I compare it to giving a present: think about how much satisfaction you get from giving a gift, and seeing a person’s face light up. I’m a strong believer that everyone should try volunteering once.

As long as there’s people in need, there’ll be a reason to volunteer. I know that even when I retire I’ll still volunteer, to help give opportunity to those who need it.

Which book has impacted me the most?

I only read factual books; I have zero imagination! The Establishment by Owen Jones has impacted me the most. I’m really interested in politics and human behaviour, and this book looks at how ‘the establishment’ controls the feelings of the general public. It will make you stop and think.

Which film has impacted me the most?

I’ve only watched about 10 films in my life, but One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest impacted me the most. It’s set in an institution for people with mental health needs, and it says everything that needs to be said about togetherness and equality.

Which song has impacted me the most?

The Living Years, by Mike & The Mechanics. My dad was a functioning alcoholic; he worked every day on a building site, making just enough money to put food on the table. I loved him dearly but didn’t know how to communicate with him. He couldn’t seem to talk about his emotions, so I didn’t either. The song is about wishing you had the opportunity to say what you wanted to say to someone when they were alive.

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