Tom McGeough - one of the volunteers at Castlerigg Manor takes us through a 'Day in the Life of a Castlerigg Volunteer' to mark National Volunteering week which runs from 1st - 12th June 2016

The Castlerigg Volunteer is an extraordinary creature. They can often be found being both highly energetic and utterly exhausted at the same time, sort of like Bruce Forsyth on a night out. But what causes this strange phenomenon? What possible excuse could there be to make 8 perfectly ‘normal’ young volunteers enter this strange state of existence? Well brace yourselves dear readers, prepare yourself for this exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime look at the secretive life of a Castlerigg Volunteer.

Every day starts of course, in the morning: the assessment of the weather concludes that once again, it is raining. The volunteer then begins their morning wake-up ritual with the obligatory washing of body and teeth, unless the fire alarm goes off, which always brings fun, excitement and slight confusion to the start of the day.

Should no fire alarm be set off, it’s the normal 8am start in the chapel where the community all gather to wake themselves up and to feed their spiritual selves, usually through a nice mass and some quiet adoration. From there, the volunteer feeds their physical bodies through the goodness of cereal, toast and porridge; or, on some days the volunteers are treated to a special treat of some goody or other (Bacon Wednesday being a particular favourite).

Then, with the early morning over, the fun begins! To those on retreat, it’s the final preparations for morning reflection and the first activities of the day. As soon as these volunteers step foot out of the dining room they are inundated with good mornings and hellos from the young people and the school staff; all of which are a pleasant and a welcome start to the day’s events, helping to put the volunteers in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day.

For those lowly volunteers not privileged enough to be on retreat that week, they are on back-up. Confined to the main and back office their day will consist of preparing for upcoming retreats and drinking tea. However, good behaviour provided, they will occasionally be allowed out to support the retreat team by the setting up of certain activities and the making of many, many drinks for the staff and young people.

For the retreat team however, their day will be much more exciting! Each day begins with a morning reflection, during which the volunteers will introduce the theme for the day and maybe occasionally show off a secret talent they’ve kept hidden from the young people in order to impress and generally win their love and respect. After which the first of the morning activities begins. During these sessions the volunteers usually lose the love and respect gained in the morning reflection due to their sub-par art abilities. Believe me, the young people are SOOO good at art it’s embarrassing!

It’s the break times where the volunteer’s true multitasking abilities come to the fore. Whilst the young people are running around outside or sitting and talking on the sofas at the bottom of the stairs, the super talented volunteers are busy doing the following tasks:

·         Clearing up from the last session.

·         Setting up the next session.

·         Ensuring that all the young people and the teaching staff have enough to drink.

·         Socialising with the young people, getting to know each of them individually.

·         Helping the young people and staff with any and all problems or questions that they may have.

·         Remembering to have a drink themselves so that they don’t dehydrate.

·         Keep being awesome and amazing people.

It really is a hectic break time for the volunteers, yet by some miracle they have enough energy and enthusiasm to lead and help the young people in the next session before break. It’s at this point when the humble volunteer begins to change from normal, hardworking human to the extraordinary Bruce Forsyth-like person. Someone who should really be in bed but who still has the energy to entertain and lead the masses of young people in the joys of the retreat timetable.

Even at Lunch times the volunteers are hard at work, trying their best to appear as ‘down with the kids’ as humanly possible as well as also remembering their table manners; It really is tough for a volunteer sometimes. However the walk after lunch helps the volunteers to really build up a sense of superiority over the young people. This could be because (due to no other reason than the height of their legs) the volunteers are faster walkers than the young people. Or it could be because the volunteers have the chance to give smart and informative answers to questions given by the young people which really, the volunteers don’t know the answer to. Whatever the reason, the walks are one of the best parts of the day for the volunteers, it’s a great opportunity to do some more talking and instead of walking around a room, they get to walk around a field!

After the glorious, well-controlled freedom of the afternoon walk, the volunteers have a bit of well-earned down time. This time is spent either having a wash… again (a volunteer can never be too clean), or they spend the time looking for various items they may have lost during the course of the day; their room key perhaps, or a jumper, or…. their marbles even.

Still, immediately following this period of respite, the volunteer throws themselves back into the early evening, happily teaching the young people how to sing the hymns for the upcoming mass. Sometimes the volunteers sing the wrong tune to the wrong hymn but they somehow manage to make each mass a resounding success- so long as the PowerPoint doesn’t decide to misbehave and display the original version of the song.

Tea time (or dinner time if you’re from the south, in which case- you’re wrong). Such a fabulous time for the volunteer, it’s by this point that the young people start to see the volunteers as normal(ish) people who can actually have a ‘cool’ conversation. It’s here where you really see the new friendships that have been forged between the young people, also the rivalries which seemed to have emerged which is always fun to watch. If nothing else, Castlerigg really helps the young people to break down those barriers.

And so, the final activities of the day begin, at the early time of 7pm, this is where the retreats really start to take steam as the young people are finally awake. The evening begins typically with the continuation or the beginning of a creative or dramatic workshop. Running on caffeine and wishful thinking: the volunteers make their final transition to the half energetic and half exhausted existence we most commonly see of them.

The battles faced by the volunteers change now as delirium starts to set in amongst the retreat team as they find themselves constantly repeating the same phrases and instructions: Please listen, yes the tuck shop WILL be open this evening, no it’s not a good idea to put 6 sugars in your tea you are only 12 years old after all.

However, despite the difficulties faced at such a late stage in the day both the young people and the volunteers seem to enjoy themselves. The results of these workshops can be fantastic; colourful blessing jars, decorated agape bracelets, clay sculptures covered in a shiny layer of PVA glue that actually stand up! A fun time is had by all even though the silly conversations seem to take precedent over actual, formed sentences which the young people always seem to enjoy watching when the volunteers talk to one another.

The Night Prayers at the very end of the day take on an altogether different tone. It’s at these times when the volunteers begin to truly shine as serious, intelligent, respectful young adults. Leading the young people in a thought-provoking and prayerful reflection that sums up the days’ events and wraps up thoughts about the theme of the day, sending the young people off to bed with something to think about. It also proves to be the most rewarding part of the day for the volunteers; at the end of each night prayer the young people are invited to stay for a bit longer for a time of quiet personal prayer and reflection. Seeing the select young people stay behind always makes the volunteers feel that they have done their job properly.

So there you have it, our tale which began in the morning has now ended, in the evening. Volunteering at Castlerigg Manor has got to be one of the most demanding vocations a young person can do: giving yourself 100% to something with no expectation of getting anything back. Pushing yourself to the absolute limit when you’re asked the same question by 50-odd smaller people with the attention-span of Dory the fish.  However, these volunteers seem to do it. Even though a single day may last a lifetime due to the separation from their phones. Even when they become the Bruce Forsyth-like hybrids we regularly see them as being. Even though they have to forfeit a year’s worth of regular Coronation Street viewing, these volunteers manage! They go the extra mile! They drink that extra cup of tea because it’s the polite thing to do! They aren’t just any volunteers! They are Castlerigg Manor volunteers! The best and the most extraordinary volunteers this side of the Pennines!

Have a wonderful Volunteer week everybody, here’s to many more weeks of diligent volunteering. God Bless and thanks for reading to the end!