Out of the comfort zone

This is the continuation of Rachel’s story…

“These are the courts now,” she says, leading me onto four Tarmaced tennis courts. “I badgered the council to repaint the lines – I told them I would do it myself if they didn’t – and to replace the nets. They did the lines and we’ve got one new net. Where do you want me? Must I smile? Can I carry on talking?”

As I start shooting, Rachel explains how Outset, a business support and advice service, has helped her with the BEST project. “They are also based at The Edge, so I can ask them anything, any time of the day. They have helped me write a business plan, a sports development plan, all that sort of thing.” Click. Click.

YES came at the right time for Rachel and so did the Neighbourhood Challenge. After graduating she spent two years looking for a job in sport, without any luck. Demoralised, she started to work at the diner feeling as if she had wasted £15,000 on her degree and was on the way to waste another £10,000 on an ongoing master’s. When that job collapsed and compulsory voluntary work was on the horizon, everything was looking desperate.

“I had no confidence. I couldn’t find a job and had effectively given up on the sports stuff, and that all dented me really badly.” Click. Click.

“Just put one hand on the net.” Click. Click. Click.

“I must admit I was so low when I first came to YES… but they have completely changed my life.”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to look into the camera.” Click. Click. “So, what has been so special… what has been the single factor that has made the difference?”

“I would say friendship,” says Rachel. “When I was in town I wouldn’t have known anyone. But now, as you saw then, I said hello to two people just as we were walking up here and it was never, ever like that. I’ve put my name out there, people know who I am and what I do and that’s more important to me than money. Some people are really shocked when they hear that Sarah and I volunteer for another 30 hours each week after the 16 we get paid for, but I’d rather have this 16 hour-a-week job that I love than a 40 hour-a-week job that I hate.”

I’ve finished taking pictures now. “That wasn’t too bad, was it?”

“No, fine. Much better than you asking me to stand there and smile.”

“How is your confidence nowadays?”

“I’m slowly getting better. Two weeks ago we had to do our final presentations for the Challenge and I decided not to use any visual aids, no PowerPoint or anything, just me standing up in front of everyone, talking. I think I’d made myself so worried about it, I’d blocked it out, but all the next week people came up to me and said what a passionate presentation it was.”

We’re walking back through the graveyard now, with the church looking like a picture postcard. “It’s that comfort zone thing, isn’t it?” I say. “Each time you step out of your comfort zone, it gets pushed further and further out.”

Rachel impressed the independent judges with her presentation and BEST became one of the six winners. She tells me she’s getting a bit nervous of having to get up on stage tonight to accept her £3,500 cheque.

“What will you do with the money?”

“I’d already started to develop a programme of weekend outdoor activities with the young people from The Edge. Can you believe some have never been crabbing, never been down to the beach? So we’re going to have some fun: making dens, lighting fires in the woods, picnics, maybe some orienteering, a kick-about on the beach, nothing too serious.”

Rachel has already trialled some ‘soft tennis’ in the main area at The Edge and some hockey upstairs – the young people called it ‘death hockey’ – which has led to monthly sessions at Brixham College. She has negotiated discounted swimming sessions at the local public, but privately-owned, pool. The town’s play project, Indigo, has commissioned her to run some sessions for them; and, once they are 16, she is planning to put some of The Edge’s young volunteers through a Level 1 football coaching course. It’s all happening for Rachel now, but despite still only being paid for 16 hours, she doesn’t intend to use any of her prize money to pay herself.

“And now just fast forward, what might you be doing in five years time?” I ask as we get back on the road back done to The Edge.

“I hope my sports programme will have grown much bigger by then,” she pauses to give someone directions. “But my passion for YES has grown so great that even if I eventually get another job, I’d still go back there every day to see them. I’d still be volunteering 10 hours a week.”

In no time we are walking up the stone steps together, back into the sanctuary.

“So, how was that? Was that okay?”

“Yeah, it was okay. I dread to see what the photos look like.

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