I want that Job! - Martin Kocsis - Volunteers' Officer at the BMC

© Mick Ryan -
In this new article series I Want That Job! I'll be interviewing people from various professions within the climbing world. If you think your job is a dream come true (it has to be climbing related) and if you're willing to be interviewed - then drop me a line. Likewise if you can think of a job that you'd like to have - suggest it in the forums and I'll try and track someone down.

It's the turn of Forum User and BMC's Volunteers' Officer Martin Kocsis (User Profile) to persuade us all why we want his job. Martin 'escaped' from teaching to take this post and now spearheads the BMC's regional revival which plays to Martin's strengths, in his words, "I get my best results when working with people. I'm not academic in any way and I enjoy neither theory nor pen pushing."

Martin Kocsis in Yosemite

Name: Martin Kocsis

Age: 38

Job Title: Volunteers' Officer at the BMC

Relevant Qualifications: As far as these go, I think that just the accountants and IT folks are required to have certificates. I started climbing half a lifetime ago, and that is a good qualification for the job. My teaching background has been very useful in terms of my ability to organise and motivate people, and being able to stand up in front of a crowd of 60 people in a pub and keep thing moving along for an hour. A readiness to use my common sense and a healthy dose of optimism have been valuable. 'Real' qualifications are not always relevant. I know at least two people with PhDs who struggle to tie their (metaphorical) shoelaces.

Salary: less than I got when I was teaching, that's for sure.

Perks and holidays/time off: I get 30 days a year, plus time off in lieu of evening and weekend work. Much of that holiday is spent on the moors of the Dark Peak, directing a rabble rousing army of guidebook volunteers for our forthcoming opus: “Over The Moors”

Describe your job in 100 words max: I'm the 'behind the scenes' bloke for the BMC's regional revival. The area meetings have gone from an average attendance of 10 when I started working with local area volunteers to 29 today. There are now crag clean-ups, festivals and direct engagement with local climbers and walkers that never happened before. Ideas and demands are now coming from the areas reflecting the greater involvement of individuals in BMC business. There is plenty more in the pipeline, all coming from the enthusiasm of local activists. I'm here to provide moral, physical, financial and spiritual support for the lovely people who come up with ideas such as the Tremadog Festival, the Lakes Newsletter and the Chudleigh Revival. There's nothing like locally agitated direct action!

How did you get this job? How long did it take? Any hardships? Did you always want it or did it just happen? I'd been a primary school teacher in special needs schools for ten years and something had to give. I no longer had the energy to give that job the commitment it needed. I was looking for a way out that didn't involve Tesco or telesales. Some years previously I had almost applied for the job that Niall Grimes now does (Guidebook Producer), but instead of posting the application, I got into my car and went bouldering at West Nab. I think I knew that job wasn't really what I was meant to be doing. In the end, my disillusionment with teaching coincided with my current post being advertised.

What attracted you to the job in the first place? When I saw the advert I had this confidence that I would know what to do: the job seemed 'intuitive'. I knew that I'd have the necessary wherewithal to go through with new and imaginative methods and ideas despite any resistance I might encounter. More than a few times people have told me that something “will never work” or that such and such “has been tried before with no success”. It all goes back to something a headteacher told me when I started teaching: “If you've always done it that way, it's probably wrong” (he was right). I get my best results when working with people. I'm not academic in any way and I enjoy neither theory nor pen pushing, which rules out about 75% of the employment market. It was 'made to measure'.

How long have you been in the job now? How long do you see yourself continuing? I've been here since August 2005. The post was set up in response to an offer from Sport England for three years of funding; unless more money is made available from somewhere, I'll be gone by the end of the summer. I might apply for a job at UKC...I quite fancy being a millionaire.

Describe your average day at work? And the average week? Luckily, there isn't one. I'm making the effort to avoid the scourge of emails because they get in the way. I like to get out and about a couple of times a week to see people. Even if it's just for tea and cake with the delightful ladies of the Yorkshire Area, or to be sandbagged by the burly Iain McKenzie at some obscure Leicester quarry, a day like that achieves far more than ten million emails ever would. Some days I just turn up at the office and see what happens and something usually does. I'm gratified to see that I get about 2 enquiries a week about volunteering for the BMC, whereas when I started there was the odd one from time to time. The evidence says the area volunteers are doing something right and that's tremendous!

Is it how you/other people imagine it to be? I dunno, how do people imagine it to be? Sitting around the office all day reading “Climber”, and comparing the lengths of our route lists? No, it's terribly professional, as you would expect.

The best day? Well, there are plenty of those. Maybe when something we've been working at for a couple of months in one of the regions works out in spectacular style; when someone agrees to share the responsibility for some task in the regions that I know will be a success. I don't like running everything from my control panel at BMC High Command...there are too many buttons and I get confused; and anyway, it's impractical and it's not what the job is about. I much prefer it when someone 'local' decides that it's a 'local job for local climbers' and they get on with it and I can hum along in the background doing the support. I enjoy those days when I get to spend time with positive, forward thinking 'yes' people. You know the sort I mean: those who respond to ideas and challenges by saying “Yep, we can do that, don't know how, but we can (and will)”. Seeing the reams of positive feedback we're now getting from the regional newsletters and initiatives is encouraging. The people who are involved with these put a lot of effort in, that goes unseen. The newsletter teams are highly professional in the way they work and it shows in the finished product.

The worst day? Is the one when I'm obliged to deal with 'energy vampires'...people who complain, object and criticise without ever saying anything positive. There aren't too many of these people, but they're very good at getting in the way of progress and creativity. I'm getting better at realising that it's their problem, not mine!

Why is it great being the Volunteers' Officer, and why is it rubbish? Ask me a hard one! One of the reasons I fell out with teaching was that my hands became more and more tied in how I taught the kids in my class. They had clear needs and talents, but the official way of doing things ignored the reality and focussed instead on targets and attainment in things that were wholly irrelevant. Here, there's an inspiring flexibility to find new and novel solutions, based on what I see and know about the people and goings on in the regions. I'm encouraged (as Bryn Terfel might say) to “Give it a go!” The rubbish-ness comes in the driving and travelling. Since August '07 I've travelled thousands of miles for work and it really buggers about with my routine. Still, at least I know never to stop at a service station that doesn't have a Marks & Sparks.

Martin Kocsis, Ellie Fowler and Carissa Lough at the Lakes Area Meeting (Oct 2007)
© Mick Ryan -
Do you “love” your job? Why? Why not? I'm glad you put that word in inverted commas. Yes, I “love” my job. In the end however, it is only a way of getting money to go the States, the Sinai or Fair Head. It's also good for keeping up the payments on my house, and feeding the Huskies of Doom (although next door's unfeasibly large cat will almost certainly end up as “lunch” one day, so maybe that isn't so pressing.)

If a teenager said to you 'I want to be a BMC officer, like you' – what would you say? Recommend it? Warn them off? Laugh?! I'd advise them to forget all the rubbish they've ever been told about CVs, careers and pensions. I'd advise them to spend time thinking about what they really enjoy doing, about what gets them out of bed in the morning, and then to translate that into a conscious decision about what to do as a job. Also, since there's only one of my job at the BMC, they'd have to fight me for it.

Any tips and advice on how to get to where you've got to? I've made loads of mistakes and wrong turns in my assorted careers, so that seems to be it...bumble along with no idea what you're doing until the opportunity that you've been looking for all those years comes along. Apart from that, see my answer to the last question!

Any amazing stories? Lots...there was that time when we advertised a BMC open meeting in Wales after years of single figure attendances, and 50 people turned up. The same thing happened in the Lakes (twice) and areas show every sign of this high level of involvement continuing. Apart from those, there was my first time on El Capitan, or when I was 90ft up something on Cloggy and all three crucial runners fell out. I faced my apparently imminent death by laughing uncontrollably whilst my belayer wept. Or maybe there was that time when I fell 40 feet down a shaft in Ireby Fell Cavern and was uninjured, or when I caught that dodgy tropical infection (Dengue Fever) that nearly killed me in the Philippines in '94. That's probably enough for now.

And finally - What's your dream job? I'd like to be a sniper in a special forces unit. Failing that I'd like to work freight dogs round the Yukon for part of the year, and then spend the rest of it as a climbing bum working my seasonal way round the States and Britain.

A Global Broadcast: Martin Kocsis in action

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