After doing a good deed every day for a year, Luke Cameron was offered a unique opportunity to pay it forward. He explains why philanthropy is his calling…
I used to work in fashion (I was the youngest ever buyer on John Lewis’s graduate scheme), and like most of my generation, I was consumed with material possessions. In the fashion industry, your focus – Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – is very self-gratifying. It’s all about ‘look how fabulous my life is’ – that’s how most people in their teens, 20s and 30s tend to live. But the pleasure you get from buying a new pair of shoes is very short-lived.
I wanted to give something backEighteen months ago I lost somebody very dear to me to cancer and it hit me hard. She spent her whole life selflessly helping others and it made me think that I should try to be a better person, to give something back.
I had a really bad time in London and found it hard to make ends meet, so eventually I went back home to live with my dad in Gloucestershire. I got a part-time, minimum-wage job as a sales assistant.
When my friend died it made me want to do something more fulfilling, so I decided to do a good deed every day for a year, to see how it would change me, and I wrote a blog about it. I guess I wanted to try and make a difference.
My year of good deedsThroughout 2014, I did all kinds of things, from importing Frozen dolls from LA and giving them to little kids for Christmas, to picking up litter and handing out food to people living on the streets.
I spent about £5,000 of my own money on helping others. I’d hand out fivers to strangers in the street. My mum thought I was mad at first – I was giving away cash when I wasn’t even earning enough for myself, but now she understands why I do it.
The downside of doing goodDoing good deeds isn’t as easy as it sounds. There were lots of ups and downs. Sometimes people would walk away from me because they thought I was trying to sell them something. One guy threw a sausage roll in my face because he was a vegetarian!
When you’re trying to help someone but they don’t accept your help it can make you feel a bit let down. One thing I've learned is that some people are just not at a point in their lives when a stranger's help is acceptable and that's okay.
Often, I’d be standing in a queue at a coffee shop, waiting to buy a coffee for the person standing behind me. I used to get so nervous and anxious, sometimes I’d feel physically sick, because even though it was a small gesture, I never knew how the recipient was going to react. I found it quite nerve-wracking. Until you do it you can’t understand how it feels. But once you’ve done it, you feel great.
I’ve had people hug me and cry with me. It’s usually £3 of the best money I’ve ever spent. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the kindness of a stranger can make people feel amazing. It’s not like buying a friend a coffee. It can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re doing it a lot.
One of my most memorable good deeds was for a charity called FareShare, which distributes surplus food to hostels and the homeless. During one very hot day we delivered 2,500 meals to people in need. That day I saw some parts of London that I didn’t even realise existed: houses that looked like normal homes but were actually refuges for women who’d been beaten and had nowhere else to go. We really don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.
My year of doing good deeds has changed me – it’s made me very understanding and empathetic. I’ve learned not to judge a book by its cover. Now, I understand that the rude woman in the supermarket queue might be in a hurry because her sick father is waiting anxiously at home for her. We all live in our own little bubble, but if you step outside yourself you see a bigger picture.
I love my jobWhen I started my year of doing good deeds I had no idea it would lead to the job I’ve got now: in January I became the first national philanthropy manager [a role that has been dubbed ‘the nicest job in Britain’] for Utility Aid, which helps charities save money. I get to travel and meet amazing people and contribute to society – it’s fantastic!
Every week I spend four days working for a different charity. I immerse myself in it, which can be emotionally draining and challenging. On my day off, I sit around in pyjamas, writing my blog and watching Netflix with my dog, Freddie.
My job is incredibly humbling. During my week with Bliss, which is a charity for babies who are born too soon or too sick, I spent most of the time in neonatal intensive care units. You see these tiny babies and their distraught parents and however much of a hard day you’re having, you know it’s nowhere near as bad as what they’re going through. Things like that make you very humble.
There are so many great charities it's impossible to choose favourites, but I love animals so any charity that involves them gets my vote. I had a wonderful day with Guide Dogs for the blind where, as well as cuddling adorable puppies, I got a taste of what it's like to be blind - I was blindfolded, given a cane and told to find my way around. It was pretty scary, but once I had a guide dog to help me, I realised how life changing they are.
I also loved walking alongside the Stonewall UK team and Sir Ian McKellen on the Pride in London march. It was an honour to walk in support of LGBT+ people.
Pay it forwardI had open-heart surgery when I was eight years old. I don’t remember much about it but after spending time in the neonatal units I can now fully appreciate how hard it must have been for my parents. So my week with the British Heart Foundation was very special – most people don’t know that the BHF pays for most major heart surgery in the UK. It was a privilege to help the charity that saved my life.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity and I’ve discovered that there’s nothing more fulfilling than helping people. It’s opened my eyes to so many things. I’ve become significantly less materialistic since I’ve been doing this job.
I was browsing in Selfridge’s the other day, killing time before I caught a train from Manchester to London and I thought to myself, for the price of that bag, you could run a small charity for another week. And that’s so much more important.
If you want to know how wonderful giving feels, just do it.
Luke’s random acts of kindness• Buying a lottery ticket for the person behind him in the queue.
• Helping an elderly lady with a walking stick get to her car.
• Giving a homeless man food, water and a bag of dog biscuits for his dog.
• Donating clothes to charity.
• Spring-cleaning his dad’s kitchen.
Photo of Luke with puppies from Guide Dogs
Find out more about Luke's good deeds.
Tell your own story on the Storyboard.
Come and chat on Logarty talk.
Read about the eco cafe where you can pay what you feel.
Find out about a paediatrician's amazing international charity cycle ride.