It is easy to forget, when our day-to-day work here revolves around clients, getting customers, traffic, Conversion Rate Optimisation, sales leads, ROI, etc, that there are many individuals and organisations out there who are devoting their time completely free of charge with only one thing in mind – to improve the environment that we live in, to enrich other people’s lives somehow…..
What am I talking about? …..Volunteering.
And this week is Volunteers’ Week, an annual celebration of the fantastic contribution volunteers make. Over 21 million people volunteer in the UK at least once a year and this contributes an estimated £23.9bn to the UK economy. The benefits of volunteering are well known – making a difference, giving back to the community, and developing new skills and friendships.
18 months ago, after a chance conversation with a mum at the nursery pick up, I started volunteering once a week on a project connected with the Childrens Society. It is a national charity that runs local projects, helping children and young people when they are at their most vulnerable, and have nowhere left to turn. The “My-Place” project I help out at is for “vunerable young unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees in Coventry & Birmingham” It is held one night a week in Coventry and one night in Birmingham for children aged 13-18 who have been forced to flee their own country ( Mostly Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan but from many other places too) and are here on their own. I help out in the Hillfields Young People’s Centre, where we put on a Youth Club every Wednesday evening for them to come and have some recreational time, but also an opportunity for them to talk to someone if they have any issues. It is also a chance to simply chat with someone, help improve their English or just have some consistency in their life for once, with people they can trust. One of the key elements is having a shared hot meal. Cooking and eating together is not just about a nutritious meal, but it is also about showing kindness and having a shared social experience.
Volunteers carry out practical tasks, such as setting up and clearing away, buying, preparing and cooking food for the meal. We also co-ordinate activities and games (Pool, Table Tennis, Table Football, Boxing, Games Consoles, Board Games, Craft, and Group Games). They are often required to provide emotional support through listening and simply showing care by just physically being there week after week. Volunteers are there as a friendly ear and to offer advice and guidance to the youngsters. I do not consider 4 hours a week a huge sacrifice, but hearing some of their awful circumstances they have had to face, I know it is the very least I can do, and count my blessings. This is just one example of many other opportunities out there in your community.
You or your family may have come across volunteers in your life without even thinking about it too much…
Scouts, Cubs, Guides, Beavers, Brownies, Rainbows etc wouldn’t be able to function without a lot of time devoted by people who don’t expect to receive anything back in return apart from seeing the young people they help grow and have fun. Ever wondered how with all the Government cut backs your local library still keeps going? As well as a set of core staff that run it, it is also backed up by an army of volunteers without whom it couldn’t function. Charity shops that you rummage around in for a bargain will be run by someone whose only reward will be the satisfaction they are helping raise money for a cause they believe in.
Go on….take a look at what you could do to give something back.