I'm happier as a volunteer: Generation y: Work: Graham's story

At 16 they were middle-class achievers. Today some would call them drop -outs. Esther Oxford meets Graham and Anna
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Graham wanted to be an electronic engineer as a child. He went to public school and took four A-levels. Now, aged 23, he has changed direction. He is a volunteer for Friends of the Earth in Sheffield and has "no firm plans" for the future.

When I was a kid I wanted to be an officer in the Royal Electricians Mechanical Engineers. My parents encouraged me. They wanted me to follow the fine examples set by the rest of the family. My father sent me to public school in Surrey. We were taught tobe patriotic, right-wing, decent, hardworking citizens. Demonstrators, campaigners and unionists were people I looked upon with distaste. Hang all scroungers, I thought.

I left college with four A-levels and took a year out to travel. When the year finished I went on a three-month special leadership course with the Army, but already I was having second thoughts. Why should I put my life in danger just because my superiortells me to? For the nex t three years I did a degree in engineering and business studies. I graduated with a 2:1. But I didn't want to handle weapons or make multimillion-pound business decisions. The pollution and waste made me feel sick.

Instead I started working for Friends of the Earth in Sheffield. I got involved in a campaign about how government departments work and for the first time I saw what we were up against. The floodgates opened. I saw how badly the environment is treated. Ibecame increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of supporting the Conservatives.

The Greens were very welcoming. I found them decent, open and honest. Whenever I had a problem they would go out of their way to help.

My lifestyle is simple. I get up early, work all day and go to bed late. I'm at the environment centre most of the time - handing out information, working with the local radio station, putting packages together. I don't drink and I don't smoke, so I don'

t bother hanging out in pubs. I mix with my environmentally aware friends then go home.

My bedsit is paid for by the government but it's not very nice. There's mould on the walls and the ceiling's on the verge of collapse. I get £36 a week dole. But there is nothing much left after buying food. I have to hitch-hike everywhere and there is no money for pleasure. I thought I'd cope with little money - I'm used to being a student after all. If I wasn't working for Friends of the Earth, though, I'd go nuts.

But it's worth it. I am much happier with this lifestyle, happier as a volunteer. I decided that when my time comes I want to be able to look over my life and say: "This is what I've done to help the world."

My parents were unhappy about this change of mine. But they've mellowed out now - I wrote a long letter to them to explain. I just have to be careful about how I express my views to their friends.

I can't see myself going back to engineering although I miss it. I find myself wandering round the house picking up devices, looking at them, wondering why they have four ridges - how that might help them function. But the constraints of the industry stop me going back.

Comments