Every year in the first week of June, Volunteers Week celebrates the 19 million people who offer their time and skills for free to the UK’s thousands of charities. Volunteers are involved in a huge range of activities, from advocacy and administration, to teaching refugees to speak English and primary pupils to read. A volunteer for The Children’s Society speaks for many volunteers when she says: ‘I volunteered to enrich some-one else’s life; I didn’t realise how much my life would be enriched.’
According to the Institute for Volunteering Research, the Football Association tops the league of organisations working with volunteers, with 400,000 people involved through club roles such as welfare officers, club secretaries and treasurers. With 396,000 volunteers, Amnesty International comes a close second. Third and fourth place are held by the scouts and girl guides, with 115,000 and 100,000 volunteers respectively.
Volunteers really do make a difference. Imagine, when you were feeling low and vulnerable, the comfort of being given a lift home from hospital by a volunteer driver, who would chat to you on the journey and take you straight to your own front door. Then, in contrast, think about the true story of a man rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack and who, when he had been given a clean bill of health, found himself waiting forlornly in the reception area, unsure how he would get back home. He hadn’t had time to take any money or his phone to hospital and no volunteer drivers were available.
People volunteer for a variety of reasons. Some are motivated by altruism – they simply want to help. Others volunteer to have fun and make new friends. If you are planning to return to work after bringing up children or looking after elderly parents, volunteering has lots to offer. The soft skills so valued by employers - self-confidence, team-work and decision-making – are all developed through volunteering.
Carly’s volunteering story
'I decided to volunteer because I wanted to give something back to my local community in Ely, using the skills I’ve developed through my career. When I spotted a request for volunteers in the local paper, I put myself forward. Within days, I’d started volunteering for Happy Cafe Ely, a community enterprise which aims to make a difference to the happiness of people in the city and the surrounding area. Happy Cafe Ely is one of several similar cafés across the world. The first was set up in Brighton in 2014, inspired by the Action for Happiness movement, whose patron is the Dalai Lama. As a result of volunteering there, I was approached by Talking FreELY, which works to change attitudes to mental health. They asked me to help with fundraising. Within a week, I could see the change that my input is helping to make and I’m also making a lot of new friends!'
Volunteering can also help you on the road to a second career, including nursing and teaching, two of the careers most popular with NEC students.
Care and nursing: your local hospital will almost certainly value any voluntary help you can offer – visiting patients, running the hospital shop or fundraising. The British Red Cross uses volunteers and make-up artists to work with patients in hospitals. First aid charity St John’s Ambulance offers volunteer positions for first aiders, youth workers and fundraisers, as well as people with expertise in health and safety, management and communications. If you are interested in working with people with disabilities and the elderly, Revitalise, a national charity providing short breaks and holidays for disabled people and their carers, has one of the largest and most diverse volunteer programmes in the UK.
Education: there are opportunities in schools and colleges to help with reading, coach sports and act as mentors to children, young people and adults. Many schools use volunteers to help children with reading and other activities. Business in the Community runs a scheme to raise literacy standards by increasing the number of trained volunteers providing support for children aged 7 to 11. The National Literacy Trust provides a list of organisations to contact if you are interested in becoming a literacy volunteer.
How NEC can help you develop skills for volunteering
Counselling: our three counselling courses take you through the key theories and principles underlying counselling practice, and examine the techniques and theories used by counsellors. Choose between A Taste of Counselling, a short introductory course; Counselling Theory, for students who already have some experience of counselling or are interested in a career in counselling; and Level 2 Award In Using Counselling Skills for people who work in mental health, run support groups or who want to be more effective as leaders and managers.
Education and training: NEC’s Level 3 Award in Education and Training is a four-month long course that helps build the knowledge and skills needed to teach or train adults - colleagues, members of a community group or fellow volunteers.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, the I want to volunteer page on the NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) website is a good place to start. You can join in one of this week’s 250 events for volunteers, from barbecues to theatre productions, by looking at Volunteer Week’s interactive map. If you are already a volunteer, share your volunteering story on Twitter using the hashtag #VolunteersWeek.