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Volunteers' Week: Enhancing local young people's confidence through basketball

Peter Bishai is the Campus Technical Manager (FoLSM/IoPPN) at Denmark Hill Campus. He spends a lot of his spare time volunteering, training the next NBA superstars and lobbying for funding to support the second most participated team sport in the UK. We interviewed Peter for Volunteers’ Week to find out more about what motivates him to give back to local young people as a volunteer basketball coach and Chairman for the London Thunder Basketball Club.

In 2012, The Surrey Canal Sports Foundation offered the London Thunder Basketball Club an opportunity to take on the tenancy of a warehouse previously used to store Lewisham Council refuse lorries. They moved in and renovated the space – while raising the funds to do so. Now, the club is home to over ten basketball teams in the age range of 10 years to seniors and hosts community sessions for young people (7 years plus) from all over London.

 

Can you tell us about your voluntary role with the London Thunder Basketball Club?

I am a team coach and this year I became the Chairman of the club. As well as coaching, I do a lot of admin and grant writing. Lots of us who volunteer spend our waking hours away from home life working at the club, either doing admin or looking after the space. We do a lot of work in the local community, with schools in the area. We have kids coming from across London and the South East but mainly Southwark, Lewisham, and Lambeth. It keeps me young. I think this is my 47th season now! I enjoy being around the young people, I think they keep you energized, they keep you thinking forward, on your toes and smiling a lot.

Some of it is really hard work. It's a club in central London. We have a lot of welfare issues to deal with. We have parents who struggle to pay fees, so we don't charge everyone to play - we just ask players to make some sort of contribution, and that might be coming to the gym early and emptying the bins or to help keep the floor clean. The aim is that they take ownership and see that they are a part of something bigger.

Who else do you volunteer with, and what other volunteer roles are there?

We share the load amongst a group of really fantastic volunteers, administrative staff and coaches. Although we come from a range of backgrounds, we all have a very similar philosophy. We are a diverse group from a range of backgrounds. I'm the only one who works in science, we've got people in local council, project management, social work, teaching, building. We coach, mentor, teach, nudge, and encourage aspirations beyond basketball using the sport as a tool to develop teamwork responsibility, self-discipline and respect.

Is there anyone that you volunteer with who inspires you?

Every member of the volunteer team and the youngsters inspire me. Our Head Coach, Steve Bucknall, was the first Englishman to play in the NBA, joining the Los Angeles Lakers. An exceptional player with an exceptional coaching ability. We use those skills and contacts to help draw the kids along. We teach them life skills, work ethic, communication, and being responsible for themselves and for the people around them. These are all things we can learn and develop through the sport, and some kids go on to win university scholarships at home and abroad.

It's about being focused with the youngsters and it's really fulfilling; I don't actually even think about it as being volunteering. It's been part of my life for so long. It's not something extra I go and do. It's what I do.

I came to King’s many years ago, to work in a department with the philosophy of bench to bedside, what we now call translational medicine. I wanted to work in a field of study that might make a difference to people and I think part of that was built on the basketball court. I wanted to do something that might make a difference for someone else. – Peter Bishai, Campus Technical Manager, Denmark Hill Campus

How does volunteering at the basketball club fit in with your work at King’s College London?

I came to King’s many years ago, to work in a department with the philosophy of bench to bedside, what we now call translational medicine. I wanted to work in a field of study that might make a difference to people and I think part of that was built on the basketball court. I wanted to do something that might make a difference for someone else.

King’s has been good to me. On the days that I coach, I start earlier in the morning, and make sure that I finish on time to get to the club on time, because the other thing about that is you're responsible. I have to be there on time and although we are volunteers we have to be professional. I can guarantee you, no matter how bad the weather is, how much angst is going on in the world, those children will turn up. Even when you think no one's going to be at the gym, someone will come and play. So we have to be there for them.

What do you want for the future?

When I retire, I look forward to spending more time at the club doing more volunteering work, because one of the things that we really struggle with is getting our admin done. We try to do it at weekends in the evenings after work, or when we finish practice, try and tidy things up, get the website updated and respond to emails.

My ever first coach in the 1970’s became chairman of our club, and now I am honoured to follow him and hold that role. Now 47 years later, three of my current fellow coaches were my team mates back then. We are still together and that's the sort of thing I want for the youngsters. So that when they come back from college and their travels, they come back to play for us, and they help us coach and look after the club, in the same way that we do. And that's a great thing, because, as much as we would like to, we can't do this forever!

It's about being focused with the youngsters and it's really fulfilling; I don't actually even think about it as being volunteering. It's been part of my life for so long. It's not something extra I go and do. It's what I do.– Peter Bishai, Campus Technical Manager, Denmark Hill Campus

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Do you have a volunteering story to share, or a question about volunteering? Contact the King’s Volunteering team at volunteer@kcl.ac.uk.

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