Thinking about charities and how their work can help change people’s lives, many of us also recognise the importance of volunteers who give their time and skills to support the causes that mean most to them. There’s now more than 170,000 registered charities in this country and they come in all shapes and sizes. Many are keen to work with volunteers although there’s no hard and fast rule about how volunteers should be involved which in part reflects the real diversity within the charity world.

In Volunteers’ Week, I want to focus on the importance of the part volunteers play in Muscular Dystrophy UK. In particular, I want to highlight the example of the wonderful contribution made over 50 years by Irene Kirby, an outstanding volunteer.

Muscular Dystrophy UK is a medium-sized charity, which provides a range of services and support to people living with muscle-wasting conditions. At the same time, we drive research to find treatments and ultimately cures as a key objective. Although we have an impressive track record of achievement, the charity refuses to rest on our laurels and we’re determined to accelerate the steps to beat muscle-wasting conditions.

Most of our volunteers have close family members affected by muscular dystrophy. They make a vital contribution to the charity in raising huge sums for research and also in giving their time and skills to support others or to lobby their MPs or local NHS Managers.

Equally importantly, there are volunteers like Irene (who sadly passed away earlier this year), who don’t have a personal or family connection to muscular dystrophy but who are moved to volunteer through a sense of altruism or simply a willingness to help others.

With her husband Bill, Irene first became involved with the work of Muscular Dystrophy UK in 1967. Her initial involvement came through a request to her Church in Herne Hill to sell Christmas cards on behalf of the charity. With that, she became an active supporter for the next 50 years.

Along with Bill, she ran our South East London Branch from 1988 onwards. They have raised thousands of pounds by running a stall at the Carnegie Fair and Lambeth Country Show, collecting coins, recycling stamps for collectors, holding collection boxes outside supermarkets and distributing donation boxes to shops and pubs.

Irene’s volunteering embraced other local causes, and from 1987 until 2007, she was secretary of The Heron Club in Herne Hill for senior citizens. She organised the weekly programme and holidays for the members, while Bill transported members to and from the club in his car. Irene was also secretary of the local Scouts, and was involved with fundraising for the troop.

Her commitment and dedication on behalf of Muscular Dystrophy UK and the local community were recognised on several occasions. She was invited to attend the Queen’s Garden party with her husband Bill in the summer of 2006, and was presented with a joint Lambeth civic award in 2010 by the Mayor of Lambeth. Muscular Dystrophy UK also recognised their contribution, and presented them with a President’s Award at our National Conference.

In today’s world of rapid communications and social media, there are still opportunities for caring, community-minded people like Irene to step up to help others and respond to needs. It will be our loss if we fail to provide such opportunities. Even though Irene’s dedication was rare and outstanding, it is not unique.

So today, as we look forward to Volunteers’ Week 2017, we should cherish the memory of Irene Kirby and her contribution, while thanking all our volunteers for the help and support they provide. As we say, ‘together we’re stronger’.

Robert Meadowcroft – Chief Executive, Muscular Dystrophy UK 









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