John Clark, 69 from Stockton on Tees, began volunteering as an RNIB Sooty Box Collector after retiring as a finance manager in 2012.

Since then, he has created a network of businesses who kindly host our beloved Sooty collection boxes - across an area than spans from Hartlepool to Hinderwell.

Why did you decide to volunteer as a Sooty Box Collector for RNIB?

“When I was working, I regularly donated money to multiple charities, so when I retired, I wanted to dedicate some of my time to charity too.

“This role suited me perfectly as it’s very flexible and you can do as much or as little as you like, fitting it around your other commitments and of course the weather forecast! It gets me out of the house, keep me fit and I’ve met so many lovely people and struck up many friendships.”

Tell us more about your volunteering…

“I started with a handful of Sooty boxes, approaching local businesses when I was already out and about, such as corner chops, pubs, takeaways and cafes, to ask if they’d like to host a Sooty box.

“I’ve built up my round over the years and now manage almost 400 boxes. This sounds like a lot, but it’s not actually that time-consuming when you think about it. Once they are on shop counter, the boxes do all the hard work collecting people’s spare change! I then schedule to go back – usually every 6-12 months - to collect the donations, bank them and fill in some simple paperwork. It’s as easy as that! I’ve raised £170k for RNIB so far – hitting my personal target of around £20,000 a year!

“This flexibility means I can also volunteer for RNIB as a store collector. I estimate I’ve now done around 120 bucket collections, raising over £40k. Again, it’s not that time consuming so both roles still allow me enjoy my retirement and hobbies whilst occasionally doing some good.”

What has been the most valuable part of your volunteering experience?

“It’s not just about raising money for a good cause. This role has also given me the opportunity to meet people and really help others. I always carry RNIB information when I’m out collecting, and there’s been several times when I’ve been able to put someone who was losing their sight in touch with the charity for support.

“The role has also made me so much healthier. I worked in an office and spent a lot of time sat at a desk so developed problems with my knees and joints, making it hard to exercise. As my collection route combines walking with driving, my fitness has now improved dramatically, and I don’t get as many problems with my knees anymore.”

How has the pandemic affected your volunteering?

“Well we’ve all had to adapt the way we go out since businesses reopened and have social distancing measures in place. Thankfully, RNIB have provided a risk assessment and updated guidance to ensure the role is performed safely, in-line with current government restrictions.

“RNIB’s services are needed now more than ever. As the government has responded to the pandemic, blind and partially sighted people have faced a new set of challenges, so it feels good to do my bit.”

What would you say to people who are considering getting involved?

“I would absolutely recommend becoming a Sooty Box collector to others. If you have even a little spare time and the inclination to get out and about, it’s extremely rewarding. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last eight years and I know that it’s done some good.

“Full training is provided, and you’ve always got the support of your volunteer manager and other local volunteers.

“The role can be performed by individuals or groups and the time you dedicate to it is entirely up to you and your commitments. You can give your time as little or as often as you like, so give it a go!”

RNIB’s Volunteer Fundraising Manager, Neil Grainey said: “The funds that John and our community of amazing volunteer Sooty box collectors raise are vital in helping RNIB to provide blind and partially sighted people with the extra support they need at this uncertain time.

“We urgently need more volunteers across the UK to collect and bank donations received through our Sooty boxes, which play a crucial role in generating income and raising our profile in local communities.”

To join our Sooty box community or to find out more, please call our friendly volunteering team on 0303 123 9999 (press option 4 in the menu) or email us at [email protected].