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David Newby, litigation executive at Minster Law, shares his recent volunteering experience and what he’s learnt along the way.

This April I had the opportunity to volunteer, along with four other colleagues, as part of Minster Law’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme.

The programme is one where employees are encouraged to use at least one workday a year to look beyond the firm’s needs and choose any organisation that might benefit from assistance.

As a relatively new employee, but one with enough years in law firms to develop a certain cynicism, I must confess that my start point was one of scepticism and with an eye to the time I needed to invest in my work as a new starter. If I am honest, I am only human, and we are all invested so heavily in our work that I was already looking at my outlook diary wondering how I could work around the day I was going to sacrifice. Don’t get me wrong, Minster is a progressive firm and I have the luxury of working from home with all the comforts and flexibility that brings to a full-time carer and full-time worker, but it did initially feel like an inconvenience.

What I learned was that volunteering is not just a one-way giving process and that the time we are all gifted is not only valuable to the receiver but as valuable, if not more so, to the giver.

The team chose the Spinal Unit Recreational Fund which was set up by members of staff and patients at the Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield. The charity participates in fundraising activities to benefit patients and break the monotony of their treatment by fundraising for days out and events.

I must confess that the initial draw of the fund was that one of their members is currently test piloting a Keeogo robotic exoskeleton which allows people with spinal injuries, affecting lower limb movement, the ability to walk and largely due to my macabre interest in orthotics that I have developed over the last thirty or so years acting for clients who have suffered injury. The advance of technology during this period is immense and I envisaged I would be writing this account from a technological perspective.

We spent the day clearing a garden that had been allowed to run wild since the member’s spinal condition had deteriorated to the point that it was impossible to keep up. No small space with any number of fallen trees, garden waste and even a petrol mower that had given up the year before ‘going native’ and hiding in the undergrowth.

During the day I, like many office bound folk, enjoyed the hard (‘real’) work, open air and the company of work colleagues without once thinking about my outlook calendar or the office.

What with Covid-19 lockdown, the usual life events, and life commitments I had simply forgotten what it was like to be out without restriction and not to have to think ahead to the next deadline. All cynicism had evaporated by the time our host decided to rehydrate the team with a well-timed cuppa and a bit of her background.

She is without doubt one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. I like to think that I am an optimist, and, in the event of hardship, I would be stoic and never rue what could have been or indulge in self-pity but I readily accept that I have a very low pain threshold.

The S.U.R.F member concerned shared her experiences and her mindset in dealing with the achievable goals she looked at each day with a zeal I was in awe of. I have chosen not to set these out in this account or even seek her authority to set out the details but, in the face of adversity, a truly inspiring individual who reminded me that, even when we don’t know what we are trying to achieve for clients, reminders are only a CSR day away.

Far from being an inconvenience, my first ever CSR day at Minster has reminded me of: the importance of connections with colleagues; the fulfilment you can get from offering even the smallest amount of help to others; what you have taken for granted (especially during those Covid lockdown months) and more importantly that inspiration can be found in the most unlikely of places.

I am looking forward to my next CSR day at Minster Law but must remember to take my half-full glass next time.

If you want to benefit from such an experience or would like to know more about S.U.R.F’s work you can read more at SURF – SPINE (spine-pinderfields.org.uk)