I was a Charity Collector

Each year, my employers choose a local Charity to support, and this year it’s Stockport MIND, supporting Mental Health. This is obviously a cause close to my heart (and head) and when a request came up for volunteers to do a collection at Stockport Railway Station, I was one of the earliest to volunteer.

There were two sessions, one from 7.00 – 10.00am, which was long before my shift, the other from 4.00 – 7.00pm, for which I was selected. It turned out to be timely on an appropriately personal level: after last week, I am currently completed frazzled both mentally and physically and a spell away from the phones was very useful.

In fact, it was better than expected. Our stint was to end at 7.00pm, with two hours of my shift left, but the manager in charge had signed me out until 9.00pm, so I could go straight home.

Like the weekend, this was a blazing summer day, deep blue skies with nothing more than the occasional cotton bud of cloud. I don’t know if this is the mental fatigue talking but it’s all but destroyed my sense of time. When the sky is unchanging throughout a whole day, when there’s nothing atmospheric to distinguish between 7.00am and 7.00pm, or any point between, I found it impossible to tell that time was even passing.

We left at 3.45 to walk over to the station. There were eight of us volunteers, equipped with collecting boxes (which we are not to rattle, it having been decided that rattling a collecting box is ‘too aggressive’) and a combination of sashes and t-shirts: as the t-shirts only went up to Large, I collected a sash.

We were supposed to split up into four teams of two, and pick a platform each. One team of two consisted of three ladies off the same team, so that left one team of one: no prizes for guessing who that was.

I wound up on Platform 1 which, despite the number, does not imply is was going to be busy. For that you needed Platform 2, which our team of the two youngest, and most attractive girls selected. Platform 1 was for outbound trains, mostly local like Buxton or Alderley Edge, maybe count Chester amongst that, with the occasional train for Cleethorpes. BUt they’re trains which in the main have come from Manchester Piccadilly, so the number of people getting off is pretty limited. Those getting on were a bit more numerous, and as they were having to hang around with me for longer periods, I was more likely to get a donation out of them.

I have never done anything like this before, and had no idea what to do. I positioned myself at the top of the stairs onto/off the Platform and smiled at people a lot. I can’t remember the last time I have smiled so consistently for so long.

It was interesting to people watch. So many people were gassing on their mobile phones. At least as many avoided catching my eye conspicuously (about which I couldn’t complain, given that that’s what I would normally do in the same circumstances). Some would faintly smile in return. I kept the collecting box visible, the smile bright.

In the end, I collected donations from 18 people, a couple of them only silver change, but the majority giving a pound coin, or sometimes two. Maybe I raised £20 all told, I wouldn’t bet on it. Others were getting £5 notes, £10 notes. I was clearly the wrong person in the wrong place, but the rest of the station was sewn up, except for Platform 0 opposite, which was averaging two trains an hour.

So I was, in relative terms, a flop, but without me there would have been no contributions from Platform 1, which is how I’m trying to look at it.

The time seemed to pass reasonably well. Given my arthritic hip and knee, I could have done with the chance to sit down ion the longer waits between trains, but there were always passengers coming onto the problem, and I decided that it would create entirely the wrong impression for the collector to be sitting on a bench: suggesting this wasn’t entirely serious.

So I swayed gently, keeping my dodgy parts in gentle motion, and trying to ease the growing ache in my left shoulder which, as I was well aware from 2016’s London Museum Trip series, was down to my shoulderbag. Couldn’t do a thing about it, not even switch it round to the other shoulder, without taking off the sash etc. So I soldiered on.

Just after 6.00pm, I saw the two girls leave their post behind me on Platform 2. They didn’t return. After about ten minutes, with Platform 1 dead, I walked round to Platform 2, which was still busy. I was starting to get worried: nobody had come to tell me what was going on, and I couldn’t see either of the other two teams on Platforms 3 and 4. Had it ended early and I’d been forgotten? I wasn’t getting anywhere on Platform 2 either, even though that was the one for the long-distance services: London, Plymouth, Bournemouth.

The team of three was downstairs, taking a break. Apparently, we had an option to leave when we’d had enough. The MIND people weren’t intending to stay much longer. The cafe had shut, it was after 6.00pm, the station was dying down. I havered about it and decided I would jack it in. I hadn’t had a donation for ages, I’d run out of the free pens I was distributing (others had wristbands, or stickers for the kids – I wasn’t getting kids on Platform 1).

So I was out by about 6.25pm, catching the bus, early arrival home even with a stop in ASDA on the way. This was my first experience of Charity Collection. I’d do it again, especially for the same Charity, or Cancer or Fibromyalgia, but next time I’d like to be paired up with someone who has a better idea – any idea – of how to solicit contributions from the likes of me.

P.S. I was supposed to be watching out for this but I missed it. This is my 2,000th blog.

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