1-7 June is Volunteers’ Week in the UK and lots of charities and other organisations which rely on volunteers are highlighting the huge variety of roles for volunteers and the many ways in which people can contribute to their chosen good causes and to wider civil society. Let’s hope the recruitment drive succeeds in matching lots of willing people with the tasks that need doing and that new volunteering converts will gain satisfaction from helping to make something good happen. Alongside that great feeling of being useful there are many other benefits to be had too – the opportunity to learn new skills and gain new experiences; the chance to meet new people and perhaps make new friends; the chance to influence the direction of a cause you care about; the opportunity to visit places or do things you might not otherwise have ever considered. Volunteering can be a door opener to a new job or change in career and it can build self esteem and help people who have faced problems to regain confidence in their abilities and to improve their communication skills.
The Volunteering England website informs us that over 20 million people volunteer donating over 100 million hours each week – not just in charities but in public bodies such as the NHS, the police (over 15,000 special constables) and the judiciary (30,000 volunteer magistrates). As well as the traditional charity shop volunteers and local fundraising committees, there are volunteers working as mentors, advocates and legal advisors, trustees who are responsible for the governance of all registered charities, and school governors ensuring that our schools are meeting the educational needs of our children.
Last month I was fortunate to be invited to visit some volunteer initiatives in Northern Greece as part of an EU information sharing scheme. These projects have come about in response to the economic crisis which has afflicted the Greek people and where unemployment is at an all time high. The local community has responded to some of the urgent needs of its citizens by setting up a social supermarket and a social pharmacy. The supermarket works along similar lines to our own Food banks with food, toiletries, nappies and toys available to those in need. The supermarket is staffed entirely by volunteers. The social pharmacy is a fantastic response to an increasing social problem – those who have no work and no money can’t afford to buy the medicines they need or seek the medical help they require and so a group of pharmacists, doctors and local citizens volunteer their time to staff a social pharmacy where medicines can be prescribed and patients referred to the consulting rooms of doctors in the town, without charge. This initiative is entirely run by the community and everyone donates their time and companies donate the medicines. It is a brilliant example of voluntary action meeting an immediate need and everyone working together. My description hasn’t done it full justice since it is a complex and clever set up which meets a number of objectives including the recycling of unused drugs languishing in people’s homes.I was inspired to learn about this initiative and encouraged to know that ingenuity and generosity of spirit have been applied by many people in response to the dreadful economic crisis.
The joy of volunteering is that everyone wins. Many volunteers say that they get more from it than they put in and are almost embarrassed to be thanked. Organisations are able to increase their activities and reach out to communities far better than their limited resources would allow with only paid staff.
The other joy is that anyone can volunteer and there are lots of opportunities to get involved – it’s open to everyone to seek out the best ways of using their time and skills to help make a difference.
There are hundreds of volunteer recruitment links on the internet, this week especially – so take a look and see what takes your fancy. If you are considering how best to use volunteers and how best to find them there are good resources available at Volunteering England (now part of NCVO) http://www.volunteering.org.uk/goodpractice/information
Happy Volunteers’ Week!