Volunteers' Week - Making a difference through volunteering 

Written by Ruth McGuire - 1-7 June 2022

It’s good for your health, your personal development and could be good for your career – volunteering. ‘Volunteer Week’, which is celebrated between June 1-7th, is a timely reminder of the invaluable work of volunteers. The special week also presents an opportunity for the country to recognise and pay tribute to the millions of people, who regularly give up their time and energies to participate in voluntary activity.


According to an old Bible proverb ‘there is more happiness in giving than receiving’ and this essentially is what volunteering is all about – giving. It’s about giving of yourself, your skills, your energies, and your time to help other people or to support important causes that involve saving and caring for the planet and all its human and animal residents. Volunteering therefore offers a unique opportunity to make a difference in the world. This could be a difference to people and your local community or to the wider world.


Statistics from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO show) that during 2020/21, around 16.3 million people volunteered through a group, organisation or club at least once a year and around 9.2 million gave up time to volunteer at least once a month. In addition to people who volunteer formally through groups or organisations, there are also millions of people who volunteer informally and not through a group. This could be through working as an unpaid carer, helping to support elderly or incapacitated relatives or neighbours with shopping or other chores or simply spending time to support other people with practical tasks. 


Rewards from volunteering


Although volunteering is not about working in return for financial gain or reward, there are still multiple benefits to be derived from being a volunteer. Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) volunteers identify the following as benefits: Better physical and mental health and wellbeing. More confidence. New skills and valuable work experience. A sense of connection to others in the community. Similarly, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) lists the following as reasons why some people choose to volunteer, to:


  • give something back to an organisation that has impacted on a person's life, either directly or indirectly
  • make a difference to the lives of others
  • help the environment
  • help others less fortunate or without a voice
  • feel valued and part of a team
  • spend quality time away from work or a busy lifestyle
  • gain confidence and self-esteem.


Economic benefits


There are significant economic benefits to the country from the army of people who work but are not paid for their time or skills. The value of the work of volunteers to the economy during 2020/21 has been valued at around £20bn. (NCVO data) At a personal level, there are also economic benefits. This is because volunteering provides an invaluable and ‘free’ opportunity for individuals to develop new skills, either personal skills or more practical and work-related skills. Voluntary work can often provide a progression route to a new career or job. For example, research carried out by the RVS found that ‘34% of volunteers aged 16-19, 22% of those aged 20-29 and 10% of those aged 30-39 report that volunteering helped them to get their first job. Around 23% of those aged 16-19, 27% of those aged 20-29 and 30% of those aged 30-39 feel that volunteering helped them to get a better job.’


Personal stories from volunteers


The range of experiences of volunteers posted at https://volunteersweek.org/volunteering-stories/ is as diverse as the volunteers themselves. Here are a few snippets of volunteers’ stories. Visit the website for the full stories and for other case study examples.


“Volunteering allows me to give back to my local community. What I love most about volunteering for Derbyshire Toy Library is knowing that I have helped provide a welcoming and supportive environment for children and families of all backgrounds so that they can engage in positive play opportunities, enjoy themselves and build lasting friendships. I have improved many skills thanks to volunteering. For example, I can effectively communicate with people from many different backgrounds; I am more patient, understanding and empathetic and now know what it takes to run a charitable organisation.” Lavinia Smith, Volunteer, Derbyshire Toy Library


“Georgia Watson (20) suffered badly with anxiety as a teenager and was unable to attend mainstream school. She came to Ocean Youth Trust South aged 16 through her Pupil Referral Unit. She excelled on board and was invited back by the Skipper for volunteer training over the next three years. In November 2018, she was selected as one of the most promising young people in the charity and offered a two-year full-time paid role on board. Georgia says: “A couple of years ago I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, but volunteering gave me confidence and all sorts of new skills, and that led me into a job which is constantly changing, interesting, exciting and fun. It’s the best job I could ever think of doing!”


“Every week I know I am going to have a fantastic Sunday. That’s because for nearly six years I have been a volunteer at ZSL London Zoo. As a volunteer, I get the enormous pleasure of spending my free time doing something I love – sharing my passion for the natural world with, well, anyone who will listen! Every shift I’m doing my bit to make sure visitors to the zoo have a fantastic day out. This can be as simple as pointing out the direction of the café. Other times, it’s about using my knowledge of the animals to inspire someone to think more about the natural world around them, and even sometimes to change someone’s mind or behaviour.” Andy Hall, Volunteer, ZSL London Zoo


Finding opportunities


Most if not all local authorities should be able to provide information about local opportunities for volunteering. In addition, both the NCVO and RVS offer a search facility on their websites, which allow people to search by location for volunteering opportunities. Visit:


https://www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/volunteering/


https://www.ncvo.org.uk/ncvo-volunteering/i-want-to-volunteer


Other useful information


For information about Volunteers’ Week visit 

https://volunteersweek.org/


To learn more about volunteering, the Institute for Volunteering Research has produced a series of very useful short, animated videos about volunteering at:

https://www.uea.ac.uk/groups-and-centres/institute-for-volunteering-research 

 

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Ruth McGuire has extensive experience in education as a lecturer/tutor and in the development of accredited courses within the further education sector. She is now involved in the inspection of education/social work courses. In addition, she has various roles as a patient advocate/representative within the NHS and is also an experienced writer/researcher.

 

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