Alexandra Shields says raising funds for the charity Make-A-Wish has shown her the strength of community spirit and people's generosity
How did you get involved with Make-A-Wish?
I’ve always tried to do charitable things, and previously worked for a hospice where my mum passed away when I was a teenager. One day I was sitting in traffic on the A30, when I looked up and saw the Make-A-Wish building. They were looking for public speaking volunteers, which is something I’ve got experience of, so I applied.
You’re now the chair of your local fundraising committee.
I had a meeting with Ruth, the regional fundraiser, who was setting up a Camberley fundraising group. At the first meeting, I somehow ended up as chairperson. I came out going, ‘How’ve I done this?’ It’s been a bigger commitment than I originally planned, but I really enjoy it.
What does the role entail?
We’re organising a race night at the Windlesham Club and Theatre on 24 June. A couple of weeks ago some of the team did a bucket collection at our local Tesco and raised nearly £700. Before Christmas, we had a bucket collection at Waitrose in Sandhurst. We engaged with a local scout group, who came along and helped pack bags while a member of the team collecting donations in a Father Christmas hat at the door. We were there for three hours and raised nearly £800. It was absolutely phenomenal.
Is there any fundraising activity that’s stood out as having gone really well?
The Waitrose event was a great activity, and the other good thing that came from it was that the scout group really engaged with what we did, and chose Make-A-Wish as their charity to fundraise for this year. Last week I received an invitation to their annual general meeting, where they want to present a cheque for what they’ve raised. It hasn’t just been about that collection that we did on that day, it’s now about what those children have done to raise money for the charity. It’s a big community piece.
Do you hear about how the funds you raise are helping to grant wishes?
We get regular emails from the charity with updates on the children’s wishes. I follow the Make-A-Wish Facebook page as well, which they regularly update so you can see the children’s stories and they’re wonderful. In the public speaking presentation, there’s a video clip showing a few children and their wishes. There’s one little girl who wanted to be a princess with unicorns, so they put horns on the front of horses. It was just magical.
Some of these children have spent their whole lives in and out of hospitals, and have never really been able to do any of the things we did growing up. Make-A-Wish allows some of those children to get away from hospital and do something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
What’s the best thing about volunteering for you?
When you get bogged down in work, it’s that feeling of coming home and knowing you’re about to do something that’s not only going to benefit somebody you’ll probably never meet, but it’s going to give you something else as well. It energises me, and gives me something else to think and talk about. It enriches my whole wellbeing. I could have sat for three hours and watched TV, but instead I’ve stood in Waitrose, met a load of people, worked with some great kids and we’ve put £800 in the charity’s pocket that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
What’s been the most memorable part of your volunteering experience so far?
In February, Make-A-Wish held a Valentine’s Ball at the Dorchester hotel in London. Volunteers, 25 of us, got dressed up and went to help. That was a real eye-opener for me, to see how generous people can be. They literally opened their wallets and threw thousands of pounds at us. We saw a side of humanity you need to see at the moment with the world in the state that it’s in. People were just willing to say: "I’ll sponsor that child’s wish. Here’s £3,000." People who are probably well off but haven’t got the time to give, they give money. And then there’s those of us who aren’t necessarily well off but we’ve got time. It gives me hope for humanity that there are people who, regardless of their circumstances, will give up their time or money to help people they’ll never meet. The team at the charity who organise it are phenomenal and it raised over £300,000.
What's you advice to anyone thinking of volunteering?
Give it a go because you never know what you’re going to find out about yourself – what you're going to learn, who you'll meet or what those things might bring you. And all the time you’re doing it, you're contributing to the bigger picture, whether you're doing an hour a week of filing or raising money at an event. The end result is you’re helping somebody who can’t help themselves. And, surely, that’s worth trying?
To find out more about Make-A-Wish, visit make-a-wish.org.uk