Rinako Uenishi – Community Programmes Volunteer and Intern

‘The staff, other volunteers and community members became a second family to me’

How did you find out about Coin Street?

I found out about Coin Street during a university lecture in Japan, where I am from. The lecture focussed on community groups around the world and Coin Street was one of them. I was impressed by how innovative and sustainable Coin Street was, using their commercial income to support their charity work.

Three months later, I moved to London as an exchange student at London School of Economics (LSE) and attended their volunteer fair. To my surprise, Coin Street was there to recruit LSE students as volunteers for their community programmes. After reading about Coin Street in Japan, meeting them at the volunteer fair, and living only five minutes away from the neighbourhood centre, I felt it was destined for me to get involved.

How long have you been involved? Has this changed over time?

I first got involved with Coin Street around nine months ago when I started volunteering at the family fitness and fun sessions on Sundays. As time went on I got more and more involved in the other sessions including the feel-good Saturday sessions for over 50s and most recently the community choir.

Having an interest in the behind the scenes aspect of Coin Street, I also got involved as a community programmes intern in the office. Between the community sessions and office work, I was at Coin Street 4-5 days a week. It became the centre of my London life.

Looking back, I’m surprised at how much time I’ve spent with Coin Street, but every moment was so energetic, intellectually stimulating, and of course fun, it went by so quickly! Coin Street felt like my home.

How do you feel you have benefitted from your involvement with Coin Street?

I have benefited in many ways from my involvement with Coin Street, but two things stand out in particular; getting to know the local people and getting an insight into the happiness and difficulties surrounding community work.

Being an exchange student at LSE, it was difficult to get to know the local people, because only 30% of the students at LSE are from the UK. Through volunteering at Coin Street, I met lots of local people from toddlers to people over 70 years old. Although the bond between them was already strong, they welcomed me into the community with open arms. I became part of their family and they became mine. I met people I could rely on to cheer me up when things were difficult, and people that I wanted to share my happiness with.

When I first started volunteering, I hoped I would bond with the local people. However, I couldn’t have imagined the bond to be so strong. Coin Street’s welcoming atmosphere helped make this happen.

Being a sociology student interested in community work, Coin Street was a great learning environment for my studies. Through volunteering, I was able to see how Coin Street has touched many people’s lives, just like I heard in my lecture in Japan. This made my passion for going into community work stronger. Volunteering also gave me an insight into the struggles of working with the community and the constraints that Coin Street faced. Experiencing these moments made me realize the reality of community work, and showed me the tasks that I will have to overcome in the future.

How has your experience of Coin Street impacted your family or friends?

As an exchange student I had to leave my family and friends in Japan and move to London by myself. Living in London on your own can be quite difficult. Not only because of the culture and time difference but also the isolation. Coin Street helped make this easier. Although they couldn’t replace my family in Japan, the staff, other volunteers and community members became a second family to me. When my brother visited I brought him to one of the sessions to meet everyone. It was really nice to see them welcome him too.

I am amazed at how welcoming Coin Street is. Even though some residents have known each other for many years, they never let me feel left out. I felt like I was a long-time resident as well!

If you had to sum up your view and feelings about Coin Street, its programmes and staff team in three words, what would those words be?

Passionate, enjoyable, welcoming – but I don’t think three words is enough.

Speaking with Coin Street staff, I am always amazed at how passionate they are. As an organisation Coin Street has big ambition. They offer amazing programmes already, but they are constantly looking for ways to improve.

No one at Coin Street is involved out of pure obligation. They all enjoy and love what they do with Coin Street, including the participants.

You recently nominated us for LSE Voluntary Organisation of the Year, what made you nominate us?

I nominated Coin Street because volunteering here made me change my view about volunteering. In Japan, students don’t tend to volunteer. I’ve always regarded volunteering as something that you give. However, volunteering at Coin Street made me realize that it’s about both giving and taking. As a volunteer, I’ve contributed my time, but in return, I’ve received so much, including skills, knowledge, fantastic memories and friends.

Coin Street has a good system of volunteering. Many participants enjoy the sessions that they go to, and then start thinking – I want to contribute to the community as well – and start volunteering. Coin Street involves people of all ages, I believe intergenerational interaction is key in successful community, and through volunteering, there was a mix of people from different generations working together. I think the participants enjoyed that as well.

I think the key thing for me was the welcoming environment. The friendly environment meant that volunteers have so much fun and learn a lot. I think this is what makes Coin Street a fantastic voluntary organisation.

Is there anything you would like to add?

My dream is to create a community where people will mutually help each other, and solve social problems that my home country Japan is facing at the moment, such as the ageing society and low fertility rate. By having neighbours help parents take care of their children, or keep company for older people who might have lost ties with their family, I believe that the society would become stronger and more sustainable. My involvement with Coin Street has made my dream a little more realistic, but has also taught me that I have a lot more learning to do to pursue my dream. Not only has my time with Coin Street been filled with fun, but it has also helped me with my future plans, and I feel that my experience here will always be a milestone in my life.

As I return to Japan, I will miss everyone I’ve met at Coin Street, and every single moment I’ve spent here. I just want to say a massive thank you to my family in London.

If you have a story you are happy to share about Coin Street please email Geena on g.patel@coinstreet.org