EASTBOURNE VOLUNTEERS, WITH HELEN BURTON: Youngsters, like Ben, can be fantastic

Young Eastbourne volunteer, Ben, 15 SUS-170419-113110001

Young Eastbourne volunteer, Ben, 15 SUS-170419-113110001

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This week local volunteer Sunny Soleil writes about a young volunteer that has been helping her:

If we are to build a culture of volunteering, it pays to catch them young. Ben was 10 when I met him.

New to the area, he and his sister helped build Edible Eastbourne’s first community garden in Dursley Road. Ben eagerly dived into it all from shovelling compost, carrying cardboard to helping a local handyman build a raised bed. I remember the joy on his face as he announced at the end of the day ‘I want to be a gardener’.

I knew he was hyperactive and dyslexic – not the ideal composition for regular school and I could also see how those ‘syndromes’ also contained his gifts.

When I got my allotment, I asked him if he’d like to come down and help. I had him filling wheelbarrows full of woodchips, spreading it on the paths, hacking down brambles and pulling weeds. Teenage boys need to burn off excess energy in a positive way and if they’re not sporty, working outside in the dirt is the perfect solution.

When I was installing an old greenhouse, Ben helped me dismantle it and he was there as an able assistant when my friend Martin put it up. I slipped Ben some cash but I make sure it’s not a regular thing. It’s like an extra ‘thank you’. His experience with me on the allotment has turned him into a fine volunteer and he’s learning about all sorts of things.

Last year he volunteered with Seedy Sunday, one of the community groups I’m involved in. This busy seed swap event takes place on two floors, so Ben’s energy was perfect for running up and down the stairs, fetching and carrying. He’s a strong lad. We were all impressed with how helpful he was. He made the ideal ‘runner’ and he notices things, and has creative ideas some of which are really useful.

For the last two weeks, Ben has been volunteering at Café Waste-Not.

What a helper. He carried boxes, washed dishes and got stuck into grating loads of cheese and making breadcrumbs. He needs direction, but when it’s given well he is quick to learn and will turn his hand to anything. We are blessed with his kind and generous nature.

My heart sings when I think of how he’s developed in the five years I’ve known him. Now a big strong lad of 15, he’s a regular at the allotment, the Café and Seedy Sunday.

Yesterday he was working on my allotment with a friend of mine who was wonderful with him, answering all his questions and teaching him in a fun way. I asked him if he’d decided what he wants to do when he leaves school. His reply ‘a gardener, a builder or a paramedic’

Whatever path he chooses, I’ll be the first one to offer a more than glowing reference.

• Eastbourne Volunteers is working on a programme of volunteering that 14-16yr olds can get involved with. Watch this space! eastbournevolunteers@gmail.com