In May our lovely Project Coordinator and Volunteer Manager Ricardo interviewed our wonderful volunteer Ben. Ben has been with Little Green Pig for over two years and has given regular support to our Tuesday club. Ben has some incredible stories to share about his time here with us at Little Green Pig. If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, you can sign up here.
Here’s what Ben had to say:
Ricardo: I guess the best thing is for you to just tell me a little bit about yourself, so what you do, when you came to Brighton, any kind of biographical information.
Ben: Okay, I’m a web designer. I came to Brighton 12 years ago…something like that. I’m originally from Oxford or Oxfordshire area, from there I went to the Midlands and then Glasgow and then all the way back down here to Brighton. I’m self employed I’ve been self employed for 20 years now. Yeah. That’s about it really, I live with my wife and our cat in Patcham.
R: Amazing. Great, thank you so much Ben and then the next thing would be if you remember how you heard about little green pig and when you started, it’s been quite a while now hasn’t it.
B: Yeah it’s been, well I started, I guess 3 years ago this December, something like that. I think I looked up volunteering in Brighton, I wanted to do some and the website came up and it seemed like something to try. I’d done a little bit of volunteering with children before but not much, and different age groups. I’d done much younger and much older, but not the sort of 7-11 age group before. So that was interesting, but the opportunity was there and I thought I’d just give it a go, and really enjoyed it and wanted to keep doing it. Lockdown has been a bit of an interruption for everybody but other than that, I’ve been doing it, I think I did Tuesday club every week for a couple of years.
R: Amazing, and you said you volunteered for other places do you want to talk a little bit about that?
B: Okay well, I’m not from a writing background, I’m not a great writer or anything like that. I came via art, I did Fine Art at university and so as part of that course, and after I graduated I did work with children, and with, I guess they’re classed as children but I would say young adults from about 15/16 onwards, teaching art and working with children of sort of 4 or 5 with very very rudimentary art projects, you know plasticine and papier-mâché and stuff. So I’d done that before, in schools mostly but sometimes via college, but not for the same sort of length of time that I’ve been with Little Green Pig.
R: Amazing, and I guess the follow up question is whether there’s specific projects or things that you’ve done at Little Green Pig that stand out for you or any kind of reasons why Little Green Pig stood out for you and why you stayed so long.
B: It’s the kids really. They’re really good kids. I thought, before I did it, I thought there would be a few children who were enthusiastic and most of them would be sort of marched there by their parents, but actually they’re all, almost all of them are really kind of interested and excited and they’re far more advanced than I was expecting them to be. They’re constantly surprising me and it’s a really nice surprise it’s a really nice experience to sit down with a group of children and sort of challenge them and then to see them kind of grow in themselves and I think one of the reasons that I liked the consistency at Little Green Pig and seeing the same children every week is you would see them go from having no confidence in themselves to being, to having real self–belief, and that’s quite rewarding and maybe quite selfish of me but I enjoy watching that growth and feeling like there is something really positive coming out it rather than just dropping in, doing a 2 hour session and then never seeing them again which I mean, I’m sure it contributes but I like to see the, the growth in them.
R: Absolutely I think the impact is such a big reward especially for if you stick around every week and see that progression like week by week so I completely agree with that. Are there any particular projects that stand out, any publications that you really enjoyed working with the kids with or any kind of specific themes, anything that you remember?
B: The first one we were working on when I first joined was a space theme. I enjoyed that because it was slightly crazier, and I really liked the graphic novel project which I guess is predictable with me coming from art but I found the, the way some of them took it and got really bizarrely creative with it, I really liked. And there were a few little moments during that project where I thought individual children really excelled, so that sticks with me quite a lot. I’ve still got the graphic novel at home I’m quite fond of that.
R: Amazing, yeah I think it’s so great the variety of ways that we can let the kids get inspired by and write in different forms because yeah you get such bizarre but great interactions with the kids and it’s great to know that you still have that graphic novel. What do you think you’ve gained from volunteering at little green pig? And that could be skills or experiences, anything that comes to mind.
B: I think I’ve learned quite a bit. It sounds quite conceited but I’ve learned more than I thought. I’ve learnt quite a lot about children, and I think I have learnt quite a lot about people generally. I think my own confidence has really increased. I’ve noticed at work when I go into client meetings I’m much more prepared to just wing it. And I have the confidence that I can command a room which, I guess they’re pretty good training for commanding attention so that’s helped me quite a bit personally. But I think the number one thing I’ve learnt is that it’s okay to not be good at something. It sounds silly because you say it to children all the time. I’m always saying to my niece ‘oh it doesn’t matter if you’re not good at it just give it a go’. It’s really easy to hand that advice out but it’s not so easy to follow it yourself. When we do a project and I try and follow along with them and I try and show them that I’m having a go with them as well. I’m a terrible poet. I’m terrible at it. But I have a go and I’ll read out my poetry when we have a group share session, and I hope that that helps them, but it’s helped me learn, to really learn that taking part does help you grow. And it doesn’t really matter if you’re not good at stuff, it sounds like such a cliché but it is true.
R: Yeah it’s different to put it into practice for sure, that intimidation does kick in doesn’t it.
B: It is scary, it’s hard, you’d think that a room of twenty children would not be a big deal but, it can be quite intimidating. I have a lot of respect for them for the fact that they are doing it day in day out in school and everything, they’re constantly putting themselves on the line. I’d sort of forgotten what that’s like because my childhood was so long ago but yeah it’s nice to be reminded of it.
R: Absolutely, thank you that’s such a great answer. Kind of like thinking about those moments that you remember with the kids, I know that we do the magic moments when something special in the session happens, for volunteers to record. Do you have a specific magic moment that you want to share? Any memory that has stuck with the volunteering that you’ve done, especially with the Tuesday club, things like that?
B: There’s a few I guess but the one that springs to mind, I won’t be too specific, so there was a young boy who, he could not draw. He was convinced he couldn’t draw. Now I know for a fact, everyone can draw. Everyone can draw. It’s like saying you can’t hold a pencil. You may not be able to convey what’s in your head, but you can draw. He was convinced he couldn’t draw and week after week we would be … because part of the project at the time was they were writing something and then illustrating it, and he could never do the illustration he just wouldn’t do it. Would just leave the page blank. And one time he was in my group and I was trying to find a way of getting him to just try, just to start because I think once he made a mark, it would start to work. I asked him what he was good at, what he could do, and he said he was good at maths, and that was the only thing that he could do was maths. So I got him to draw, I think it was a number seven, and then turn the page upside down and I said well that seven that looks like a nose. And then I got him to do I think it was a two, to draw a two as an ear, and then an eight on it’s side for lips. And we build up this face out of numbers. Because he knew what numbers looked like and he knew how to construct it. And by the end of the session he’d completely abandoned the numbers and he was just drawing. And he had this, there was a moment where I looked at him, and you could see, the sort of, it was almost like a light went on in his head and he understood how to do it suddenly. And that was really really rewarding, and by the end of the year, he’s left now, but by the end of the year he was drawing every single session and writing and he was really good at it. So that was a moment when there was a block that one child had and it’s really quite special to have been able to witness him getting over that, it was quite a privilege to be there when he clicked and worked out how to do it.
R: And to be a part of that, that you were the person that made that connection and allowed him to explore something in a different way and use the skill that he had to put them in a different way and learn to experiment and to be imaginative in terms of how drawing can actually look like. Yeah that’s such a rewarding experience, such a great magic moment, definitely a pivotal one, thank you for sharing that. I guess the last thing on top of just having some final remarks, whether there’s things that you didn’t expect, I know you’ve mentioned some skills and things that you gained, but are there any things that you didn’t expect to have gained from the experience volunteering? So anything that that you might not have encountered, or expected to think about and then you’ve gained something that has been useful.
B: I guess the biggest thing, I often go into meetings with quite serious people. Prior to lockdown I would have meetings with people who were earning six, seven figures, in big boardrooms in glass buildings in London and they were quite important people and I suppose the surprise is, actually, they are just a bunch of seven-year olds. The way that I would command a room when someone’s talking you just stop and look at them and wait and the embarrassment, and the calm, everyone calms down, and then you continue. It controls men and women in their 50’s and 60’s, it’s a universal. So I wasn’t expecting that. I thought that I was volunteering to be generous, to give something back. I didn’t realise I was going to get so much back from it myself. I didn’t realise it was a transaction. Actually, I’ve got back as much as I’ve given in terms of my ability to stand in front of a group of people of any age, and walk them through something.
R: Absolutely and I think that’s the thing that we don’t realise, I’ve also volunteered for many years and you do it for a specific reason, or because you really like that organisation or just altruistic motives but then you start realising how much you’re getting out of that, whether that’s skills or experiences, things that you can apply elsewhere, or even just the people that you meet. So it’s really good to hear that you feel like that transaction has been made in some way. Those are all the questions that I have and those answers have been fantastic so thank you for sharing that. I just wondered if you have any final remarks, anything that you want to say to us or any questions that you have for me.
B: Not really. I’ve not quite got back into volunteering after lockdown but I’ve got my certificate through, so I’m going to make a schedule and get back to it.
R: Yeah that would be great. There’s so many different things happening at the moment and I’m going to be sharing a new project that we’re doing that starts on the 11th of June so I’ll send that if you’re interested, but we are really lucky to have you Ben, I know that Julia loved having you on Tuesday club and it’s a pleasure to still have you.
B: Thank you.