We took the lads out for a Belly Buster Brekky to the local greasy spoon.
‘Bloody hell! It’s Snow White and her seven dwarves!’ the woman serving us hollered, laughing at the sight of me sitting with my Tupperware salad box in my primly pressed M&S blue and white striped shirt with my sensible trousers and shiny, corporate shoes.
She had a point.
The belly-buster plates came out: they were the size of dustbin lids. Simon, Dave and our band of merry men began tucking into their individual portions of 10,000 coagulated calories. ‘Thanks very much for this, Simon!’ One of our volunteers shouts across the table. ‘We won’t be able to move this afternoon, never mind do any work!’
I glance over at the other table where Callum is breaking out into a food-induced sweat as he ploughs his way deliberately though an enormous spam fritter.
We had a chat about all sorts. Travel, work, cooking, one of the guy’s impending nuptials, and the challenges of being caught up in the DWP merry-go-round.
These are talented guys. One has worked for 35 years in the printing industry. He’s only a relative newcomer to the whole ‘JSA’ (Jobseeker’s’ Allowance) thing. His industry barely exists anymore. He tells us of his sixteen years on night shifts, whilst tackling the generous slice of black pudding on his dustbin lid plate. I can’t believe he’s out of work. I can’t understand why he’s not being paid a fortune to do what he does best: graft and be a part of something.
But he is a part of something. He feels like he’s a part of something. He is a valued part of our crew. We are collectively making something from nothing up at the old school now turned into Threeways; a place where ambition and vision exceeds any budget or capacity. It happens regardless, thanks to a few good (and very clever) people and guys just like him. We are grateful for him, and for them all.
Back in the office, I’ve cobbled together some certificate for Simon’s latest idea in recognising effort, and saying thank you to our volunteers. It’s our monthly ‘Health & Safety Award’ nominated by the Project Team (i.e. those of us who are lucky enough to be PAID to be there.)
This month, Sean has won it hands down. I hold up his certificate, and we inform him of his award, together with the crumpled tenner which accompanies the lowly accolade. We say thank you, and he is visibly moved. ‘I can honestly say I never got anything like this in all my 35 years of paid work,’ he says, with a pride I can’t quite put into words. ‘I’ve never felt so valued. It means a lot, thanks so much guys.’ He walks out of our office like a puffed up pigeon who’s just pulled. In fact, he doesn’t walk – he BOUNCES out of our office.
It was a certificate, a tenner, and a thank you; that is all. And it’s MORE than he ever received in all those years of hard graft, over sixteen years of night shifts. It’s made his day, and it’s also made mine.
Once they’ve gone back outside to the building site, to burn off the double fried eggs and four rashers, I turn to Dave and Simon, and I say, ‘Wow. This is why we do this. This is our reason.’ We all agree, and somehow we all seem happier.
Funny that, isn’t it?