From running arts and crafts at a mums’ and tots’ group and being a music librarian for one of the Military Wives Choirs to presenting on her community radio station, army spouse Donna Burns’ extensive volunteering has brought much joy to her life and those around her, wherever she’s been posted. We spoke to this energetic mum-of-five to find out what drives her to give back…
Up until the summer of 2006, Donna was a single parent to son Peter and, juggling a full-time job, had little time in the diary for romance. That, however, changed when a friend introduced her to Rod, a Royal Engineer, and they began their military journey together.
“I now work full-time as a teaching assistant,” says Donna, “but up until last October, I’d put my career on hold and was blessed enough to stay home with my five children.”
However, Donna explains that things weren’t always easy for the couple: “I was diagnosed with cancer – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – very early into our relationship. Rod has stood by me the whole way. We got married and moved to Tidworth – my first taste of army life.”
It was during a subsequent posting to Hameln, Germany, that Donna decided to give volunteering a go.
“The Salvation Army ran a club and once a week I would help to run it – it helped to give me a real sense of purpose. I was a mum and wife, yes, but I didn’t work, and I needed to feel like I was doing more.
“I then helped with some of the mums’ and tots’ groups, mainly tidying and helping run the arts and crafts. I met some lovely people and it made me feel great.”
Bug for volunteering
It was when Donna moved to Chatham that her next volunteering adventure began. “I had recently had my son Freddie and my husband had recognised that I needed some ‘me time’. We saw a leaflet for a new Military Wives Choir, Brompton MWC [now Brompton and Invicta]. Joining was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” says Donna. “Each choir has volunteer roles for its committee, so I volunteered for music librarian and loved it.”
After Donna’s fifth child Penny was born she also took on the role of running a mums’ and tots’ group in Chatham, creating a welcoming and fun place for spouses to come to with their children.
Journey to the airwaves
In 2016, the family moved to Perham Down in Wiltshire.
“Within the first week I’d contacted Tidworth MWC and they welcomed me with open arms. It wasn’t long until I took on the role of a music librarian again,” says Donna.
It was at choir that Donna met Kelly, who introduced her to the next volunteering chapter in her life, community radio.
“Kelly brought me up to Castledown FM as part of a special show talking about loan sharks. I was hooked. Even though I wasn’t behind the desk running things, I loved it.
“I was asked to join Kelly on her Wednesday morning show Humpday Hooray and had such a blast,” explains Donna. “All my children were now in school or nursery and I had some free time. There’s only so many times you can clean a house!”
Before long Donna was asked to present a morning show.
“It was fantastic,” she says. “Doing something I had never thought I could do and being that person that people tune in to – maybe because they’re living alone, isolated or because they need an escape.”
Being on community radio has become a real passion for Donna.
“Not just playing music but talking to people in the community, telling people about events, support groups and getting people on our shows who bring awareness of things happening around us,” she says.
And Donna’s passion to help others doesn’t stop there – she now has plans for further ties in the community after meeting with Rev Tim Laundon.
“He heads up a community pastoral support team. After having cancer, I know how life-changing it can be so I’m going to be involved with the team to visit or talk to people who are going through cancer treatment, who’ve had treatment and those who’ve lost a loved one. Having someone to go to the shops with you, put a load of washing on or just someone to sit and talk to is sometimes the best way to be there for someone,” says Donna.
Advice to others
Donna believes volunteering is a great way to get to know people, find what you want to do and give you a sense of purpose away from the family home.
“I’ve been able to grow so much as a person and I’ve made some amazing lifelong friends,” says Donna.
“If you’re wanting a new challenge, to give back to your community or just help, then volunteering is the way to go.
“I’m so grateful for the people I’ve met and the self-confidence I’ve gained.”
Jacqueline’s collection is her personal thank you and tribute to our armed forces, veterans and their families; and a commemoration of those who have fallen or been injured in past campaigns. She paints to evoke emotion, reflection and remembrance in her unique and expressive style. To view the collection, visit poshoriginalart.co.uk