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Here's why Don Knibb volunteers for Hull Maritime.

Tuesday 14 November 2017

I picked up a new car in Scunthorpe this morning, but had no time to enjoy it because I had to get back to Hull for a City of Culture volunteering shift at an art exhibition. There were two of us. The staff at the venue looked at us pityingly and after about 90 minutes suggested that we might as well go home. The exhibition had attracted no visitors at all that day, the same as just about every other day. Hence the pitying looks from the staff. What’s more, it was too dark when I got home to explore my new car properly. Why do I bother with this volunteering business?

Sunday 19 November 2017

It’s 4.30am on a freezing cold morning and I’m at the Humber Bridge in City of Culture volunteers’ uniform. 4.30!! I must be mad. The occasion is a photoshoot – a few hundred of us will line the Eastern walkway on the bridge and be pictured greeting the sunrise. We’ve been anxious all week about the likelihood of leaden skies and no real observable sunrise but it turns out to be a wonderfully clear morning and a majestic moment when the sun rises at 7.37am. Was it worth the icy three hour wait to be part of it? Yes, of course it was! Is this why I bother with this volunteering business?

Over the next two or three years my wife – Olwen – and I take on a number of wider volunteering opportunities - at the Freedom Festival, Hull Minster, the library and of course the Hull Maritime project. We have an entire wardrobe at home devoted to uniform. When we take visitors into town they are often amazed at the number of people we know and can have a chat with. It’s a wide but loose knit community of staff and volunteers dedicated to making sure visitors enjoy what Hull has to offer.

Don at the Hull and East Riding Museum, the meeting point for the maritime guided tours

Fast forward to November 2021. We are now accredited walking tour guides with the Hull Maritime project and have arranged a pre-Christmas party at our house for the group as a whole – there’s 17 of us and we’re all mostly up for any kind of get-together. A few days before the party I post a message to our WhatsApp group telling them we’ll have to postpone it indefinitely and explaining why..

On 16 November we had received our badges and certificates as walking tour guides amid many congratulations, much celebration and just the odd glass or two of wine. Three days later – 19 November – Olwen and I catch the train to King’s Cross to see our daughter who lives in Croydon. The Croydon train goes from St Pancras and we start to walk between the two stations. Somewhere near the taxi rank I catch my foot, trip and fall. I’m a bit shaken but not in any great pain. People rush to help me up, but one guy – to whom I am forever grateful but can never express that gratitude because I have no means of tracing him – takes charge of the situation. He won’t allow others to help me up until he’s satisfied that I’m not in great pain, am ready to make the effort and once upright can support my own weight. Two out of three. There’s no way I can take any weight on my right leg. And I shortly begin to realise that disturbingly I can’t actually move that leg either – not at all. I’ve become a walking tour guide of three days’ standing who can now neither walk nor stand.

[It turned out eventually that I had broken my pelvis and would be in hospital in London for four weeks, undergoing two operations. If anyone wants to read about this in more detail I have written about it in a blog called The Autolycan and relevant links are at the bottom of this article.]

Thus it was that I had to message fellow volunteers from hospital to cancel the party. You have to scroll back a very long way to find that message, but I’ve just done so and see that five of the group replied to me within five minutes and before long everyone had sent messages of sympathy and support. This wasn’t just a one-off but was maintained throughout my stay in hospital – and beyond - and was hugely valuable in helping me keep my spirits up. In particular I was grateful for messages received when there were setbacks, the worst being the two occasions when my second operation was postponed at the last minute. Olwen too was inundated with messages of sympathy and offers of practical help which of course was also extended to me when I eventually got home. To know that they were there for us when the going got rough was not only humbling but also invaluable in helping me to stay (reasonably) cheerful and to keep things (reasonably) in perspective. This subset of the loose knit volunteering community was turning out to be warm-hearted, generous and pretty tight knit.

Before the accident I thought how great it was to get involved in a project which gives a new purpose and direction to us at this stage of our lives. It’s been a joyous thing to be part of, although it’s possible we may overdo this sometimes. In a recent group family chat Olwen’s two nieces proposed coming to Hull and she encouraged them pointing out that we’re both accredited tour guides. Our son chimed in with ‘Yep, and if you’re not careful they’ll drag you all over the old town. And tell you all about it too!’ Well, of course we will.

We went ahead with that party a year to the day after it was originally arranged. I’m sorry not everybody could make it, but it was a way of saying thank you to a great group to which I’m proud to belong. Of course there’s the odd disappointment now and again such as nobody showing up to the art exhibition, but I now know lots of reasons why I bother with this volunteering business - and want to carry on doing so!

I’ve written about the accident and my first week in hospital at https://theautolycan.blogspot....

And about the next three weeks at