Helen Walker, Chief Executive at national volunteering charity, TimeBank, shares her expert advice on what volunteering can do for you and how you can get started.
Why should I volunteer?
Volunteering is incredibly rewarding, as you’ll instantly know the difference you’ve made to people who need your help or to your community.
It’s also a great way to get out of the house, make new friends and have a laugh. You’ll probably meet people from different cultures and backgrounds as well as like-minded people who are as passionate about a cause as you are. And you’ll learn and do things you might not normally get the chance to which can be a real confidence boost.
While you’re busy giving back to your community you could also be getting healthier too as research has found volunteering (especially if you’re based outdoors) can help you sleep better or even boost your immune system.
Can I volunteer at any age?
Absolutely! Volunteers who are older have really amazing skills and experience to bring to the party. As well as having lots of knowledge and expertise, you’re likely to potentially have more empathy and insight than younger volunteers too.
Volunteering can also really fill the gap that might be left by children leaving home or giving up work for retirement as it can help keep your skills alive, build new social relationships and try new experiences.
What should I consider before taking up volunteering?
- Think about how much time you have available and how much of that spare time you want to commit to volunteering.
- Think about the things you like to do. For example, are you passionate about the environment or do you want to help children or older people?
- What do you want to get out of the experience? Do you want to meet people, learn new skills or pass on the ones you already have, support a particular cause or just try something new?
- Are there practical things you need to think about such as whether you need a building that is accessible? Do you want to volunteer near where you live? Would you prefer to work indoors rather than outside?
How do I find a volunteering opportunity to suit me?
Talking to other volunteers about their experiences can be a great help. On the TimeBank website there’s a ‘Trip Advisor’ style review section where volunteers can rate their volunteering experiences and talk about how they found the whole volunteering experience which you can see here. But remember one size doesn’t fit all so don’t hesitate to discuss any issues with the organisation you’d like to volunteer with.
A great place to look for opportunities is www.do-it.org.uk and www.timebank.org.uk. Alternatively, you could get in touch with your local Volunteer Centre or contact a charity whose work you admire and care about.
Once the volunteering begins, how can I make the most of it?
You should expect an induction where you can find out about the organisation, and be introduced to other staff and volunteers as well as a supervisor you can go to with any problems or queries.
Above all, don’t be afraid of asking questions. If you know what you want to get out of your volunteering experience, share those expectations with the organisation you are volunteering for so they can help you to make the most of your time.
Remember that you should be getting something out of this too so make sure you enjoy yourself or at the very least can see the value in the work you are doing.
Are there any specific opportunities I can get involved with this autumn and winter?
With Christmas approaching, now is a better time than any to turn to volunteering. Lots of charities are desperate for help at this time and often people enjoy their first taste of volunteering so much they carry on during the year.
There are lots of things you could do from packing a shoe box full of gifts for children across the world to hosting an international student at your home, helping out at a food bank for hungry families to helping out at respite care centres across the UK.
You might have thought about helping to serve Christmas lunch at a homeless shelter but many of these shelters also need entertainers, medical professionals, hairdressers, therapists and dog handlers, if you’d prefer to get involved in these areas. You can find lots of ideas for Christmas volunteering here.
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