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We are joined on the blog this week by Ruth Walkden, a 1976 alumna. Here she tells us more about her volunteering experiences.

Volunteering with a difference

Ruth Walkden

“On September 14, 2019, in Chester, three friends excitedly waited for their Honorary Degree Graduation Ceremony. They had finished their Cert Ed in 1976 and were about to be awarded a BEd. The topic of conversation was that one of the group wasn’t there. They wondered what had happened to her in the intervening years. Looking at the list of graduates there was one called Ruth, with a different second name, was that her? They remembered Ruth had always been keen on football. By now they had moved to the chapel ready for the ceremony to begin…. “Facebook!” One of the trio exclaimed. “I wonder if she is on Facebook?!” Hurriedly typing the name into Facebook, it came up with a profile, living in the right place and yes, still mad on football.

“So, why hadn’t I made the graduation? It was because I volunteer for my local non-league football Hereford FC and was in Guiseley, Yorkshire that afternoon. At our level (National League North) teams have very few paid staff, volunteers carry out most roles. Mine is to provide a text commentary and chat service for every game. Some fans can’t get to games because of ill health, work or family commitments, or they live too far away – we have followers in the US, the Middle East and Australia!

“Armed with a laptop, mobile wifi, power banks, stopwatch and notebook, I arrive at the ground about half past one and head for the press area. As I set up, there are nods and greetings with the team, officials and other media folk. First up is team news, then I do a full commentary by text, answering questions and joining in the chat as we go. We can have up to 500 people at any one time, so the games fly by.

“Transferable skills from a teaching career? Thinking on your feet is a must! Managing comments, I liken to taking a school assembly – you need to have in your mind what is acceptable behaviour, before you start. I have a swear filter which replaces naughty words with ******, that helps! I can delete posts too, with the ultimate sanction of banning them (the equivalent of telling a child to stand outside the classroom door?) That is a rare occurrence as most fans feel they are part of a friendly community, that’s almost as good as being there.

“I’ve been to places I wouldn’t have otherwise visited. In the North East, I’ve been to Blyth, Spennymoor, Darlington and Gateshead. Going in the other direction, I’ve covered games at Barnstaple, Bideford and a Cup replay against Truro at Torquay. To the East, games at Kings Lynn, a place that doesn’t seem to be near anywhere else. But, best of all I’ve done a text commentary from Wembley, sat in the press area with the most incredible facilities and a world away from most of the usual grounds. I couldn’t do all this without Andy, my husband of 25 years and counting. He is an official photographer for the club, so driving, grumbles and moments of joy are shared.”Wembley view

“So, back to the story I shared at the beginning. We lost 3-0 at Guiseley, after the long journey home, it was straight to bed. The following morning, I saw I had a friend request on Facebook from a name I didn’t immediately recognise. I worked it out and soon we were sharing contact details. Since then we have met and caught up on our memories from the intervening 44 years. Other meet ups were planned but put on hold with lockdown. These wouldn’t have happened without the University of Chester (and Facebook!). Thank you!”

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