I always remember being intrigued by charity shops and those that worked in them. I would often consider applying but would remember that it wasn’t considered cool and I didn’t have enough “street cred” to be different. So I would continue walking by.
It wasn’t until I was around 16/17 that I began to frequent the charity shops in the hope of finding a great bargain. I really did find some great stuff. My most memorable finds were the white earmuffs with the bendy plastic and some red ankle wellies that had laces and fur lining. I again began to contemplate giving up my time to work in the shops. I figure that working in retail would be good experience for any future employment prospects. Although, by then, I was drinking in the local pub and found my social life and boyfriend were more important.
Jumping forward ten years and a lot has happened in terms of life experiences and lessons. I returned to University at the lovely age of 25, I was able to pick a module for the second semester. Out of sixty students, a friend and myself chose to take Documentary Photography. By the amount of bitching and moaning that followed from those taking the other class, I knew quickly I had chosen correctly. I know some of them secretly resented watching me swan around campus with a camera whilst they were frantically making calls for locations and casting.
For my first assignment, I did a self-portrait, of my ears. I had only just started wearing my hearing aids again and wanted to get the viewer to feel as uncomfortable looking at the images as I felt wearing them. It worked. I didn’t even need to explain myself, as my lecturer perfectly understood. For my final assignment within this class, I had to chose a subject and present it within 7-12 images. It had to have a narrative. After a while of thinking of subjects, I decided to choose my sister. I wanted to present the various parts of her personality and her life. Despite never being particularly close with my sister, I’ve come to admire the person she has become, although I’d never tell her that!
When I suggested the idea to my lecturer, she was confused. I gave more information. “She’s not just my sister,” I said. “She’s a mother, a carpenter, a partner, a gardener, a wine maker, a volunteer, a motorcyclist.” With her approval and a date to pop back to Norfolk, I booked a camera and a train and went home.
My project was simple, take lots of shots of my sister doing all of her stuff and pick one of each. The one shoot I remember most was her volunteering. I knew she helped with the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) but had never really understood what she did. We went along on the Sunday morning for training for new recruits. It was amazing to see her in the full kit and training others.
After the weekend, I edited my project and presented it to the class. I got a first. This is the highest grade. I was so happy.
When I returned from studying abroad in Canada, one of our first classes was based on putting forward ideas for a documentary. After a quick brainstorm, I decided to pitch the RNLI. I figured my sister would be able to help with arrangements. I managed to get my project chosen and with a small team, we set upon creating it.
The whole process afterwards was chaotic and a nightmare and almost certainly contributed to one of my lowest points and a very consuming depression. The team broke down into two groups. I spent an entire day editing (as in sat at a computer for 23hours) before deciding it was enough and going home to sleep and cry. That happened twice. It was the worst and hardest project I had dealt with, made much harder by the fact that I was Director. It’s not a role I am comfortable with and despite being a little bit bossy at times, I prefer to hide behind the computer.
I eventually crawled through it. As we presented it to our class, it made the 4am lip-syncing worth it. Especially when other groups had audio and video horrendously out of sync as times, I was cringing. I felt I had done myself proud and mostly, the RNLI justice.
I didn’t want to end up with something that looked like high schoolers had made it, to embarrass my sister and never be allowed to go along to see them training on a Sunday morning again. I learned so much about the charity during a ridiculous amount of research that I wanted to sign up. Immediately. Unfortunately, to be able to participate, there are certain health checks and good hearing is one of them. I fully understand that and completely agree, as I wouldn’t want someone’s life at risk due to my frequencies not working that day.
Inspired by my sister and her selfless effort to run to the boathouse at anytime day or night to save those at sea, I wanted to find a way that I could work towards making a difference. This is why I began volunteering at AOHL. I may just be on reception but it’s great experience for me to be in such an environment. I get to socialise and meet all kinds of people. It’s helped my confidence in so many ways. It’s also a great feeling when someone comes in looking for advice or help and that I am able to do so. Whether it’s just a chat or spending time with someone who is struggling, it’s helping them.
So although I was never brave enough to offer my time when I was younger, my sister and witnessing the RNLI has encouraged me to do it now. And it’s so completely worth it. I made my final edits recently and also added captions so that even more people can enjoy it.
I hope others are able to find something to inspire them to give back to the community or help someone else as much as I did.
Here is a link to my documentary, don’t forget you can load the subtitles! :