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If this last year has taught us anything, it is the immense power of people coming together for a common cause. Whether that’s protecting the vulnerable against coronavirus, fighting racial discrimination, or improving women’s safety, humanity’s natural inclination to help those in need has persistently shone through in some rather dark times.
It may be no surprise then that nearly a fifth of the UK population give their time at least once a month to volunteer for a vast range of causes, from charities to after-school clubs and even small start-ups who are strapped for cash. Possibly more surprising is that the voluntary sector actually contributed £18.2 billion to the UK economy in 2017/18.
The most common reason for volunteering is the desire to improve things for other people, the community, or the environment.
The benefits to the volunteers themselves can be just as profound, but are often forgotten. From making lifelong friends and improving mental health to boosting career prospects, volunteering is truly a win-win situation.
The social side of volunteering can be enormously important to anyone looking to find new friends and expand their support network. Most volunteering roles involve working with like-minded people and committing to a shared activity is a great way of building and strengthening relationships. On top of that, being surrounded by other volunteers, who are a naturally positive and supportive bunch, can do wonders for your self-confidence.
In this digital age, there are plenty of ways to help out from home if you cannot get out and about, such as writing tasks, designing websites and running email accounts. But working remotely can get lonely so make sure you get enough social contact and support from others in the organization.
Doing good deeds for others provides people with a sense of purpose, pride and accomplishment. These are essential for our self-esteem, and the better we feel about ourselves, the more positive we feel about the future. Regular social contact and a solid support network can also be a strong barrier against depression. Volunteering can take your mind off other worries and keep you mentally stimulated and physically active, which is particularly important in later life.
Humans, it seems, are hard-wired to help others. In fact, it brings people immense pleasure to do so and the more we give the happier we feel. However, volunteering doesn’t have to take over your life… Research shows that just two to three hours per week is the most beneficial to both the volunteer and their chosen cause.
Volunteering can (and should!) be a source of enjoyment, as it can be combined with hobbies and passions. If you long to be outdoors, try volunteering at a community garden or youth camp, or if you love animals then try the local rescue centre or sign up for dog-walking. Indeed, working with animals can also reduce stress and anxiety.
Giving your time for free may seem like bad economics, but the skills and contacts you acquire from volunteering can be a real career booster. It is the ideal opportunity to get experience in an area that interests you and build upon essential workplace skills, such as teamwork, communication, and project management. Many roles provide extensive training, and you may one day find yourself an expert in crisis counselling or wildlife conservation.
Of course, climbing the career ladder is not an essential motivation to volunteer. Ultimately it all comes down to bringing passion and positivity to a cause you care about. Volunteering should be as fun as it is fulfilling, an enjoyable escape from the daily routine, so it is worth considering your options carefully and visiting a few organizations to get a feel for things.
With volunteer’s week well under way, there’s no better time to get involved and plenty of organisations looking for a helping hand. There’s nothing to say you can’t turn volunteer week into a volunteer year, and no knowing where it might lead you!
If you’re looking for adventure, the Scouts has launched its own volunteer recruitment drive - #GoodForYou. Check out your local opportunities to provide young people with skills for life.