I’ve been volunteering at Orb for a couple of months now. In that time, I’ve met a lot of inspiring people, I’ve developed new skills and reawakened old ones, and I’ve had heaps of fun in the process. Here’s how it all happened.

My partner and I moved from Nottingham to Knaresborough in March. It took no time at all to fall in love with our new home, but as a freelance music journalist who had been closely involved with the grassroots Nottingham music scene, I was missing a similar sense of community.

Scanning the Knaresborough Post one week, I was intrigued by a review of a performance by the Tidswell Noise Collective, at a venue that I hadn’t heard of before. Experimental, “Dada-esque”, multi-media performance art, right here in Knaresborough? This sounded right up my street!

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in mid-August, this mysterious venue opened its doors to the public, as part of the FEVA festival. Still intrigued, I headed down the little alleyway off the High Street, eager to find out more about this potential hotbed of creativity.

Inside the building, a mini-music festival was taking place. I sat and watched for a while, then headed back outside to the stalls. I picked up some leaflets and scanned through them, growing ever more curious, and wondering if there was a way that I could get involved.

I was introduced to Leon, who told me more about Orb’s aims and activities. I was impressed that, on such a busy day, he was prepared to take the time to explain things so patiently and thoroughly to a rather nervous stranger! In turn, I told him about my work as a music writer, and my experiences as a volunteer: setting up a community blog in a small Derbyshire village, manning the phone lines for a counselling service, and mentoring budding music writers for a non-profit organisation in Nottingham.

I couldn’t yet see how my skills might integrate with Orb’s work, so I was delighted when Leon invited me to come back for a chat, a few days later. We agreed that there was scope for improving Orb’s online presence, and that I could make a useful contribution.

Over the next three weeks, I was given a comprehensive introduction to the organisation. I was shown around the premises, and introduced to service users, volunteers and staff. Everyone, without exception, was friendly, welcoming and willing to share their knowledge and experience. Very quickly, I began to feel at home.

In her recent blog post, Pauline described her own experiences of completing the “Essential Skills in Volunteering for Positive Mental Health” training, which is offered to all new volunteers. I can only echo her positive assessment. Having some limited personal experience of mental health issues, I was keen to learn more about this fascinating, challenging and ever-developing area of knowledge.

I was particularly struck by MIND’s “Five Ways To Wellbeing” – connect, be active, take notice, learn, give – and by the way these principles are put into practice every day at Orb. I witnessed, at first hand, how vulnerable people are benefiting from this approach, and I learnt a great deal about the ways in which volunteers can best contribute to this process. On a more general level, and less specifically to Orb, it was also heartening to learn about recent initiatives to promote mental wellbeing in the workplace; there is clearly much work to be done in this area.

As part of my training, I was invited to join in with a range of Orb activities. This is where the fun really started!

Getting creative at the art class

Getting creative at the art class

I hadn’t attended an art class since the age of thirteen. Now I was being given graphite and charcoal, and asked to draw a self-portrait of my face – no mirrors, just touching! – and an image of a giraffe, viewed upside down. The results were… well, they weren’t great art, but they were better than expected! And in any case – and here was a very important lesson – the value of the experience lay in the journey, not the destination. It wasn’t about striving for perfection, or about being judged in any way.

In my professional life, I have always been placed under pressure to perform to the best of my ability, for the benefit of my employer. Here at Orb, I was free to experiment, to learn, and to develop at my own pace, while engaging supportively with the people around me. The pressures of the outside world simply melted away. Like the service users, I was gaining a valuable wellbeing boost of my own.

The fun didn’t stop there. At the weekly singing classes, Shanisha guided us through rehearsals of Seasons of Love, from the musical Rent. I hadn’t had a singing class in decades, and it took me a while to find my voice, but the group were patient and supportive. By the fourth week, we were ready for Andy to record our performance. As the sole bass, with a voice that compensated in volume for what it lacked in pitch, I placed myself as far away from the microphones as I could, without actually leaving the room – any nearer, and I would have drowned out the whole recording!

The recording complete, we all crammed around the sound desk for the playback. Hey, this sounded pretty great – cheers and high fives all round, then!

Playback time for the singing group

Playback time for the singing group


Elsewhere, I’ve had a drumming class from the unflappably patient John, and I’ve had DJ tuition from the amazing Rory Hoy. I’ve attended the new Monday evening singing group, and I’m hoping to join in with the Thursday evening Field Recording group at some future stage.

Meanwhile, I’ve set up a new Twitter account for Orb, I’ve started contributing to the Orb Facebook page, and I’ve got some ideas on how we can develop the Orb website. Oh, and I’ve been enjoying giving weekly blogging tuition to one of our service users, too; she’s enjoying having a new space to express herself. More blogging tuition is available to anyone else who wants it!

New volunteer Mike working in the IT suite

New volunteer Mike working in the IT suite

A couple of months ago, I was still feeling rather isolated in my new home, unsure of how best to engage with the community around me, and spending altogether too much time behind closed doors. Thanks to my involvement in Orb, I’ve discovered a new sense of purpose, and the increased sense of connection with the people around me has boosted my spirits and self-confidence. I’m looking forward to building on this solid start in the months ahead. Perhaps volunteering at Orb could do something similar for you?