Minister of the Month: Gareth Hopkins

Posted by Bhavani Esapathi on 29th August 2017

We love our volunteers at the Ministry and every month we like to celebrate them by handpicking our ‘Minister of the Month’. How do we make these tough choices? It’s not easy but every time we reflect on our amazing pool of volunteers we’re in awe of how fortunate we are to have such talented people on our side and this is one way of us saying, thank you – you are simply brilliant!

Hi, my name is: Gareth A Hopkins

I volunteered as: Illustrator, Writing Mentor, Comic Book Lead, Chief, probably a couple more somewhere.

I live in: Essex

My favourite story is: “Battle Of The Diamond Sword” or “Bella”, or the one where the speck of dust’s greatest dream was to grow into a bigger speck of dust whilst terrified of a vampire duck (that wore a top hat).

What I do for a living: On top of my job in educational assessment, I’m an illustrator and artist. If I’m known for anything it’s my abstract comics, notably ‘The Intercorstal: 683’. I’ve got a son who constantly talks about Minecraft and a daughter that draws rainbows at every available opportunity.

I decided to volunteer at the Ministry when I saw a tweet for illustration volunteers and it felt like something adventurous I could do. I’d not done any live illustration before, or worked with children in any capacity, but it looked like something fun and different to get involved in.

Were you nervous about anything before starting? My first experience of the MoS was observing another illustrator. So without any actual responsibility, and nothing I could get wrong, I don’t remember being nervous. That was quite a long time ago, though, so it could just be my memory which is dodgy at the best of times.

My best experience in the volunteering process was: There have genuinely been too many. Discovering that the chief sometimes spoke like a cockney pirate was very personally illuminating. I think probably the best was working with Melinda on ‘Bella’ for the first Storybook project, which in turn became both my daughter’s favourite book and (from the sounds of it) the impetus for Melinda to dedicate her life to writing. But, I mean… every session is incredible in its own way. I always feel very lucky to have gotten to take part.

What has been the most unexpected thing about volunteering? At one of the Halloween parties there were foods set out to look like body parts and other gross stuff – one of the ones I tried turned out to be a decorative candle, though… that was pretty unexpected.

Volunteering at the Ministry, It’s made me more confident for sure – drawing in front of children and finding out that I could just about cope with whatever they came up with was an eye-opener.

If I had to describe the Ministry in 3 words, they would be… Quack Woof Meow

What would you say to other people thinking of volunteering with the Ministry? Give it a go. It’s been an amazingly positive part of my life and I can’t recommend it enough.

How was volunteering at the Ministry different to your previous volunteering experiences? (only if you have volunteered before).
I volunteer at comic conventions, arranging queues, making sure people are where they’re supposed to be, things like that. If I’m good at doing that it’s because I’ve got a certain bank of very geeky knowledge that I can use to answer questions — “Why is that person famous?” “I’m looking for someone who drew Spider-man in the 80s?”, things like that. The difference with the Ministry, especially story-making andcomicbook workshops, is that my job’s to get people to answer their own questions. In nearly all cases my answer to “What happens next?” or “What’s this character’s greatest fear?” and all of those questions is less valuable than the answer the children come up with themselves.
Has this volunteering experience impacted in shaping your career in any different way? 
It’s made me braver, for sure, and more comfortable talking to people. I used to find people quite hard work, but I think spending time at the Ministry has really made me more comfortable with myself, and by extension other people. From a more corporate perspective, sitting down with a group of young people during a story-making session and encouraging them to use their imaginations…it’s like fun version of a business meeting, except that it forces you to listen to other people’s ideas and opinions and put them before your own — it’s a skill I use in my working life every day, and it’s doing OK for me so far.
What are you working on now? 
At work-work I’m going to be helping to upgrade two seperate-but-connected IT systems over the next few months, which is intense…ly boring. In my other life as an artist/illustrator, I’ve just released my new book ‘Found Forest Floor’ (it’s an abstract graphic novel and I’m almost deliriously happy with how it turned out) and am working on two follow-ups to it which are completely different. I’m also working on some artwork for the Lakes Comics Art Festivalin October, and a piece for a showcase with Young Blood Initiative, an arts collective I’m a member of, which needs to be ready for September. Apparently I like to keep myself busy!
NEXT PAGE: The Bridge Academy Children Speak Up!