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Meet January’s Team Volunteers of the Month: the Octopus Real Estate Manchester team

22 Jan 2020

The Team Volunteers of the Month award celebrates the people at Octopus who are going above and beyond in their volunteering work. This month, the award went to the brand new Octopus Real Estate Manchester team, who’ve quickly made a big impact at their local FoodCycle. We spoke to Michael Mather, one of the team, about their work with FoodCycle and the benefits volunteering has brought to their team.

How did you start working with FoodCycle?

When our team was formed four months ago, none of us had really volunteered before. But we all agreed we wanted to bake it into our culture from day one. FoodCycle, one of Octopus Giving’s partner charities, has a community kitchen just around the corner from our new Salford office. It felt like the perfect opportunity to get to know our new neighbours and give something back. 

What does your volunteering entail?

We volunteer on Wednesday evenings. At least one of us volunteers each week and whenever possible the whole team goes together. Volunteering with people I knew definitely made it easier to start with.

There are three main job types at FoodCycle – collection (picking up donated food from local supermarkets and restaurants), cooking, and hosting. I’ve done a mixture, but hosting definitely fits best with my sales background.

When you’re a host, you act as a waiter, serving a three-course meal to all of the guests and making sure they have a good time. The guests are from all walks of life. Some are struggling to make ends meet, others are older people who come along for the company. The social experience is every bit as important as the food.

What have you learnt from volunteering?

I think it gives you a sense of balance and perspective. We work in a fancy new office and it would be all too easy to separate ourselves from what goes on in the street just below. Volunteering helps me feel connected to other people and understand some of what they are going through.

Of course, volunteering sounds like a selfless thing to do, but there are plenty of selfish reasons to do it too. If you love chatting to people and getting to know their stories, there’s no better way to spend an evening.

Has volunteering changed the way you work at the office?

Because we volunteer as a team, it definitely brings us together. As I said, we’re all new to this, but we’ve embraced it. As our team grows, it will be a big part of our culture.

It’s also changed the way I approach things at work. If I have a bad day, I’m more able to laugh it off because I have a better sense of perspective. That probably sounds like a small thing, but it can give you a much more positive mindset each day.

What’s the impact of your work with FoodCycle?

Working as a team means at least some of us are there week in, week out. FoodCycle don’t have to worry about someone getting ill and not showing up, as there will be others in the team who can take their place. I think the reliability and consistency are really helpful.

We all feel more closely connected to FoodCycle too. Just the other week we went out and bought a big box of food to donate from all of us. And we’re now equipped to tell others about the organisation to help spread the word.

As the winning team this month, you get £500 to donate to charity. Who have you chosen to give it to?

We’ve decided to give our money to the Christie Hospital. It’s local to us and it does a huge amount for the community. Most of us know a few people who’ve been treated there. They do incredible work, and we’re really happy to be able to support them.

And finally, what would you say to someone who’s not sure about volunteering?

I’ve only been volunteering for a couple of months, but I’ve already had some incredible moments. One of the first people I met at FoodCycle was a man who turned up and told me he was having surgery a few days later. He didn’t have anyone to talk to about it and he was terrified. We had a great conversation and I helped reassure him. That got me hooked.

Moments like that really do lift you up. If I had a choice between this sort of experience or sitting at home watching Netflix, I know which I’d choose.

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