Mark Fox is Chief Executive of the Business Services Association and a former Parliamentary Candidate. He writes here in a personal capacity. He is also a Prince’s Trust Mentor and White Association Adviser.
Some years ago, I was interviewed by David Cameron for a job. He was Director of Communications at Carlton Television and I had applied for a role in his team. The appointment was for 7.30 am. Appropriately nervous and hopeful, I turned up early, shoes polished, new crisp white shirt. I had done my research. I had practised my answers. Having submitted a carefully honed and crafted CV I was thrilled it had won me an interview. I wanted the job. I wanted to work for him. It was known he was a coming figure.
I didn’t get the job.
I have always remembered the encounter. Sad as I was that I was not appointed, I remain grateful to him for the lessons I learned that morning. They have stood me in good stead ever since – both when being interviewed and doing the interviewing.
I thought about this again especially when I read the other day that the Prime Minister said he was thinking about dong some voluntary work. In particular, he said, he would like to help young people with their CVs and interview practice.
Although the honours system aims to acknowledge voluntary work, and Cameron has recently introduced the George H W Bush inspired ‘Points of Light Award’ to further recognise this area of activity, most volunteers most of the time will go unacknowledged and unrecognised for their vital work. It is simply a part of their lives. Part of being a member of the community in which they live. And in many ways that is as it should be. Quiet, selfless work, done not for gain or recognition, but simply because you are making a contribution.
It is entirely to his credit that the Prime Minister is considering giving up some of his time to a voluntary activity and, given his unique position, it will encourage many existing and prospective volunteers that he is musing about this in public.
Voluntary work is a key part of the working of any community or society. People willing to give their time and experience for nothing in support of others is a valuable and precious part of our society. Passing headline issues about need or disadvantage understandably grab media headlines, but much under-reported is the vast range of voluntary work that goes on day-to-day, week-by-week with people who need help and support: WRVS ‘meals on wheels’ for example, or companion programmes that focus on visiting lonely older people, or becoming a prison visitor are three good example.
Not all volunteering is focused on charitable activity. More traditional forms are vital to our society, too. Serving as a school governor, scout or girl guide leader, helping with an after school project. Or serving as a magistrate, local councillor or, yes, getting stuck into politics. Politics is a voluntary activity that works best when people join in. If you don’t like the look of politics, don’t sit on the sidelines. Join up and join in.
There are hugely diverse opportunities to volunteer for a huge range of organisations. They offer a chance experience a different part of life than that which you might be normally used to, an opportunity to learn and broaden your experience, and most importantly to help others in a selfless way.
Over the years I have volunteered in a number of different ways that have included being a governor of several schools and working with the homeless helping to find shelter and employment. More recently, I have volunteered with two organisations that do different work and are wonderful to be associated with – The Prince’s Trust and The White Ensign Association. I have worked with young people looking to find training and job opportunities, often facing the most challenging circumstances.
The Prince’s Trust is an amazing organisation, and I am very proud to be associated with it. The White Ensign Association works with Royal Navy personnel as they transition out of the service into civilian life. I have met many talented, skilled and brave men and women who have much to offer civilian life. Working with them on how this is best achieved is a huge privilege.
I learned from the interview with David Cameron that although my interview was the most important thing to me at that moment, to him it was just one of a number of things he was dealing with that morning. I learned that you do not have long to make an impression. I learned that a good CV can only get you so far. I learned about disappointment. I also learned that demanding jobs demand long hours, the boss has to be briefed, and that time is precious.
I hope the Prime Minister finds time to volunteer. Those he mentors would benefit hugely – and I would encourage him to consider the Prince’s Trust and the White Ensign Association as good places to do it.