Tim Nicholson: My SIA journey from fundraiser to volunteer to staff member
Back in the mists of time, before most of my hair fell out and my beard turned grey, I’d regularly run marathons. I’d even done some high-profile ones such as Paris. However, my friends said that I wasn’t a “proper” marathoner because I’d not run London (and that was the only real marathon in their eyes).
So, in a fit of pique, I entered the ballot for the London Marathon 2007. To my utter astonishment, I was allocated a place. On hearing the news, everyone I knew expected me to run for a charity. But which one? There were just so many good causes. In the end, I stuck a pin in the charities section of the phonebook and it landed on the Spinal Injuries Association (which I’d never even heard of). So, by pure luck rather than judgement, I ended up as an SIA fundraiser.
Fast-forward by the best part of a decade to last year. I’d spent all of my career working for H M Revenue & Customs (as an Anti-Evasion Specialist) and expected to see out my remaining working years with the Department. Then, the bombshell hit! It was decided, at short notice, to close our Milton Keynes Office.
Luckily, HM Revenue & Customs agreed to give me a severance package (rather than forcing me to commute to London or Birmingham). This left our family financially secure. Great in one sense. However, I found myself at a real loose end during the week (when my wife was slaving away at work).
For a while, I kept out of trouble by tackling all the incredibly dull household jobs that we’d avoided for years. Fun things like cleaning out the garage (I so hate spiders and there were some utter monsters in there). Eventually though, I reached the bottom of the task list and started to get seriously bored. After all, there’s only so many coffee shops anyone can visit each day.
What to do to occupy myself? I had no idea whatsoever. Then, came a eureka moment. I’d ‘give something’ back by volunteering. But what and where? My wife suggested the SIA, as she remembered how impressed I’d been by the charity back when I’d run the London Marathon in its colours.
So, in late Autumn 2016, I went down to SIA House for a coffee and chat with Jen Sims, the Volunteer Co-ordinator. She was so welcoming and her energy and enthusiasm were contagious. I signed up straightaway.
During my first few weeks as a volunteer, I did tasks for a number of different teams. However, as time went on, I found myself increasingly working with Dan Burden, the SIA’s Head of Public Affairs (whom I sat opposite). He very much threw me in at the deep end. However, that was great, as being ‘challenged’ was exactly what I needed after several weeks of not using my grey matter.
After a few months though, very happy as I was at SIA House, I started to worry about not bringing in a wage. It wasn’t that our family were short of money. More, it was a sort of primal urge to ‘put bread on the table’. So, I applied for a couple of part-time jobs. To my surprise, I was straightaway invited to interviews and was told (off record) that I was likely to be offered one or both.
The prospect of getting a paid job so quickly should have filled me with absolute delight. However, it actually made me a bit sad, as it would likely have meant saying goodbye to SIA House.
However, Lady Luck smiled on me. A part-time vacancy arose for at the SIA, which I jumped at. So, since mid-April, I’ve been the charity’s Public Affairs Officer, enabling me to continue to work with Dan Burden, but in a paid role.
The work is very varied and extremely rewarding. A large chunk of my time is spent on research (which was ironically one of my specialisms in H M Revenue and Customs). I also write articles for the SIA’s “Forward” magazine, assist with campaigning, and am involved with lobbying Ministers and Members of Parliament.
In a sense, I’ve ‘completed the circle’ in recent weeks, inasmuch as I’m training to run the Berlin Marathon 2017 (on 24 September) to fundraise for the SIA. Training has been super-tough in the heat of recent weeks (especially for an old boy like me). But so far, so good. If nothing else, I’m building up an absolutely fabulous tan.