Across the southwest there are literally thousands of volunteering work opportunities to get involved with. It seems like a lot of people feel better in themselves on a deeper level when they are helping to care for the planet and other people.
Ash Compton, who has worked voluntarily on various organic farms tells me: “Every time I plant a new sapling, I feel I can hold my head up high and honestly say that there is hope for the future. After all, there will be at least one more fully-grown living and breathing tree in the years to come.”
Ash goes on to describe how volunteering helped turn his whole life around. “I used to be a marketing executive,” he says. “The stress of the work and a messy divorce caused me to have a breakdown. While recuperating, a friend asked me to accompany her as a Wwoofer (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) in Wales. I loved it. Here were motivated people doing something very positive. Everyone I met was so enthusiastic and kind, and I loved getting my hands dirty and spending the day outside. I spent the next few years visiting many such farms all over the world. It opened my eyes to a completely
different way of life, and helped me sort my priorities out. I became a lot less materialistic and selfish and took up meditation and yoga. My life has so much more meaning now.”
Volunteer Kit Green is a school governor and member of the Youth Housing Board. He says: “When I retired I needed something to do and I still wanted to be part of a team. Volunteering has given me continued structure and purpose after a life of working. I feel like I am still contributing and giving something to society.”
Many people who work for the more established charities and non-governmental organisations started out there as volunteers. For Sarah Timms, volunteering led to a full time paid job, with an organisation she felt truly a part of. “I was unemployed and sat at home, feeling bored and lonely, trying to get my life back on track,” she says. “I applied to the Bristol Drugs Project to train as a volunteer. Although it was hard at times, I really enjoyed the challenge. I met lots of new and interesting people from all walks of life. It also turned out to be a good career move as 18 months later, they offered me a permanent job.”
You don’t necessarily need to have qualifications to work in specialist areas like this. The Samaritans provide 24-hour emotional support (phone, email, text, one-to-one) to people in distress, some of whom may be thinking of suicide. This is manned by highly trained volunteers. Although intense, this sort of thing can be extremely rewarding.
Julie Brown works for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. “If in doubt, definitely give it a go,” she says. “As well as feeling good about yourself, volunteering can give you valuable work and life experience. It also looks good on your CV, if that’s what you are looking for. I feel privileged to be here, it’s very life-affirming and rewarding.”
Many of the services and organisations we take for granted rely on unpaid helpers to run effectively. Whether it’s the Red Cross providing first-aid cover at your favourite festival or sporting event, or the local cub/brownie group outing, many of these things wouldn’t happen without a small army of volunteers. Even the mighty NHS needs assistance. It’s more than possible the receptionist, general helper or the visitors at the hospital are unpaid.
Ann Sheldon (not our Ann), works for a Cancer Research charity shop. She says: “It’s a break from paid work, relaxing yet helping others, and a part of my leisure time. It makes me feel valued. It also stimulates my mind, makes life a lot more interesting and gives me a great sense of personal satisfaction and achievement. It’s food for the soul!”
Anyone can volunteer, whether it be for a few hours a week or full-time; working or not working, skilled or unskilled, shy or confident. Without volunteers, many services and charities we cherish would struggle. Get out there and help.
Bristol Volunteer Centre, www.bristolvolunteers.org.uk 0117 989 7733
Bath Volunteer Centre, vol-centre.org.uk, 01225 787 928.
To find you’re nearest Volunteer Centre:
Volunteering England, volunteeringengland.org,
tel 0845 305 6979. wwoof.org.uk, samaritans.org
Written by Ken Edmunds
Published issue 56 - Spring 09
Details correct at time of going to press, but may now have changed. Please make your own checks.
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