“It’s sad to see young people with energy, desire and a longing to fulfil their potential hampered by the significant hurdles that life has unceremoniously dumped in front of them.”
Having gone through difficult patches in life himself, Simon immediately connected with the challenges our young people have to face when he first heard about the work we do at Drive Forward. He was initially asked to visit us and speak to a group of care leavers about his own career path but was unsure whether his experiences would be met with a positive response:
“I was quite apprehensive at first. Mainly because I wasn’t sure what the young people would make of me or whether they’d find what I had to say of any relevance.” However, he soon noticed that the young people in front of him were both, engaged and affected by what he had to say. “I can still remember the people who were there that day and one guy in particular has stuck with me. I wanted to help him more than I knew I could, so I guess part of my impressions, of what I took away that day, was a deep frustration at the difficulties and injustices some people face.”
By talking about his own negative as well as positive experiences, and how he managed to overcome difficult problems, Simon aims to help young people realise that past events and current circumstances don’t have to determine the rest of their lives.
“Work hard! Know what it is that you want to achieve, what it really takes to make it happen and ask yourself if you’re willing to pay that price.”
As with most of our volunteers, Simon works in a high-pressure environment, leaving little time for other things. But “even if it’s just a few hours every now and again and a bit of honesty about my life and the struggles I face it’s an amazing privilege to be able to provide some guidance to people who really need support.” This is also where Simon sees the importance of volunteering for the good of society as a whole: “The more people contribute to the society around us the less of a burden the work of improving society becomes and the better we become as a whole. Plus, it’s good to help, it really is.”
Simon is a realist. He knows that life isn’t always fair and there will be some hurdles to climb. So his advice to any young person is to create a long-term plan and “once you have your plan, break it down into manageable chunks of what you need to do.” What do you need to do now in order to get into uni (grades, application processes…)? What can you do now in order to increase your chances of getting the internship at the company you fancy next year (work experience, training courses…)?
“From time to time ‘look up’ and remind yourself of why you’re doing all this work, what your goal is and refresh your dream.”
And finally, if you wish to work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office like Simon, then you need to take it up another notch. Get your info right, see what a diplomat’s life really looks like and what the role involves, including a profound interest in world affairs. Then look up how you can get there. “You’ll be applying against some of the best people in the country so you’ll need to be good, very good. Get out and do things that will make you stand out from the crowd: participate, lead, volunteer, travel and experience life and the world. Learn another language.”
If you’re interested in finding out more about volunteering with Drive Forward, either on your own or as part of a group, you can read more about our volunteering opportunities here.