A friend asked on numerous occassions to write a blog about volunteering and the things I’ve done. I declined many, many times. It’s not been my style. Mostly I’ve just done what I’ve done to the best of my ability, mostly quietly in some respects, except I guess not so quietly as it has involved communities of people, who have known what I’ve been up to in my so-called spare time. By and large, I’ve just got on with what’s needed doing. I will say about what I’ve done, but also provide some advice, some positives and some negatives to volunteering. Hopefully this will provide an insight and also inspire or give ideas to other people. This is no vanity thing. It also doesn’t matter how big or small for what you do, if you volunteer, it all will have or is making a positive difference to people’s lives.
I have volunteered for 22 years to date. I hadn’t planned to for this long. It just happened. I am nonly just 40, so that is a bit of my teens and all of my adult life I have found myself volunteering for things. I am not in some swanky job, nor am I rich. I work part-time, don’t earn a lot and I’m also an unpaid carer. Nothing glamourous there… I am just an ordinary woman in a small, ordinary village, in a small county in the UK.
I have tried to add some anecdotes to make it less dry and list like. It may look a lot, but I want to give a taste of all different types of volunteering, give a snapshot of behind the scenes as it were, to certain things and I hope you find it interesting. I hope you read it. Took me longer to write, than it will to read. Honest!
I never had any grand plan to volunteer. I didn’t wake up one morning with a sudden epiphany to volunteer, nor to lead anything or be anyone’s assistant. It all just sort of happened.
I have written some pros/benefits and cons/negatives to volunteering and some advice for anyone thinking of volunteering. The lists are by no means exhaustive. I have then, with some pics included, written about what I have actually done when volunteering. I hope you find it interesting and helpful too. It hopefully gives a bit of insight into volunteering and what sorts of things you can do. Again, not exhaustive.
All I ask is for you to be kind. I’ve never blogged about volunteer work like this before and a wee bit nervous. Thank you!
The Collins Dictionary has a couple of ways of defining Volunteering:
- A volunteer is someone who does work without being paid for it, because they want to do it.
- A volunteer is someone who offers to do a particular task or job without being forced to do it.
Benefits from volunteering in no particular order:
- You make others and yourself feel good. Yes, you may still eat the carbs etc, but volunteering can help with those endorphines.
- Gain new skills and discover that you can do certain things that you may never thought you had within you to achieve, sometimes naturally, other times, moulded and cultivated.
- Gain knowledge and experience that you may not get otherwise.
- Make new friends, expand your world that is more than just your home, school or workplace.
- It’s often a safe place to try out something you haven’t but wanted to try, so long as it fits in with the group you join.
- In some cases you can do more than what you can in your paid job, most of my experiences in things I do for free end up like that.
- Confidence and Resillience Building
- Being part of a close-knit team.
Negatives in no particular order:
- It can have its stresses and strains, depending on your position.
- It can be time consuming, depending on what it is you do. A helper is less time consuming than a leadership role for example.
- You can end up volunteering to fill the government gaps, when they close something down.
A Little About Volunteering Advice (in no particular order)
Volunteering can come in all shapes and sizes, from helping out now and again, to being a regular helper, to leading a group. Whatever you do, have fun with it and find out how you can put skills to use or fit in.
Take a look to see who nearby is looking for volunteers. There are groups that help advertise these posts and check out social media on your local community page. You can also just go into a place and ask verbally about positions too.
Treat volunteering like you were being paid. There is nothing worse than someone committing and then last minute letting people down, unless it seriously can’t be helped, for example, illness, death in a family or you’ve had to move away for a job or family at short notice.
Last minute, with no reason presents challenges for leaders and team members if there are plans in place to implement, depending on the task. For a children’s groups or a large event for example, it could be a matter of whether it could go ahead or not due to ratios.
Get stuck in with different tasks to gain different experiences. Never be afraid to ask questions or to voice an idea to see if it gets the go ahead or not, or gets a discussion going on what is workable, within your volunteer organisation.
Be prepared to commit and be flexible with your time. Be prepared to sometimes rearrange non-urgent plans if you can. Always good to show great commitment so events can go ahead, as some dates, say for a speaker etc, may be outwith your general control as you work around their work commitments, or a trip away may only be able to happen on a certain day.
Don’t go into it thinking it’ll help you walk into a job. It can help for certain jobs, perhaps, but you’ve still got to work hard for those interviews etc just like everyone else.
Do have fun, but also know when to take things seriously too. Do it because you want to and not for some ulterior motive.
You don’t have to be old to volunteer. You can volunteer at most ages. There may be some age restrictions for good reason, on some roles, but there’s often something you can do somewhere.
Respect those who came before you and those who will come after you in a volunteering role. If you do leave a place, give notice if you can and perhaps a reason. Giving notice means any loose ends can be tied up and someone new found.
This is what I have done over these 22 years. Please note, no names are mentioned as I have not sought permission and some would be almost impossible to ask now and I want to be courteous.
Starting Young – child and teenage years.
Blue Peter, I was a fan of this growing up and they had challenges. The schools I went to, including primary, hosted their bring and buy sales and collected aluminium cans for their charities. I helped run a stall sometimes for bring and buy and helped with the can challenge too. I also opted to help out with a Macmillan Coffee Morning.
Prefect and Friends Badge
Colours reflect house colours
Then I got involved in things that were even more regular. I’d hit 6th year at school. Final year and I was a Prefect with a little free time. There was a day when there was an impromptu informal meeting (so informal the then Rector sat on a table in our commonroom. He had never done that before or since in my time), to ask if, as a year group it would be worth carrying on with a group called “Friends” that the previous 6th years began. It was like a buddying system, but it grew further than that. This sounded my kind of thing, so I wrote my statement as to why I wanted to join and was accepted. In that year, I not only assisted those having school issues, including bullying, but also joined other groups that staff were starting. I volunteered to assist with children who were consistently finding themselves in trouble at school, to assist with finding solutions and did this for many months, until it started to coincide when I had a class. I did this during my “free class periods”.
I was also, at the same time, head-hunted by an English teacher to start a lunch club for first year girls with her. I could have said no and I think she was half expecting me to, given her reaction when I heard her out and said yes… Put it this way, in a quiet corridor, she stirred the head of History, who was in her nearby class, came out to see what all the fuss was about.
It was to be a safe space for first year girls to speak about anything they wanted and to have fun without peer or male pressure. We had all manner of things like a tv, magazines, nail polishes (they painted my nails a lot as my nails are so long because they start so far down my fingers, that even when cut, they look long ), arts and crafts, including painting on the teacher’s window to brighten up her classroom. Amongst the fun we would listen to the girls, help them, advise them where needed in all manner of things that were on their minds. It ran fortnightly for 30 mins or so. As well as being the assistant, I was sometimes in the lead during busy marking times for teachers. I used to persuade a group of friends to come assist me. Throughout the year other curious teachers would come and see what we were doing too.
Falling into Rainbows – part of Girlguiding for 5-7 year old girls.
Leader Promise Badge
HM Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Badge
Girl Guiding Centenary Badges
Rainbows Promise Badge
Pot of Gold badge as girls move to Brownies
It was accidental. Pure accidental how I got involved. I had been babysitting a 7 year old for my mum’s work colleague and friend. The local Rainbows needed a new volunteer to help out the leader and assistant leader. I was a student too at the time, studying childcare. The normal way round would be for her mum to volunteer herself, even though her daughter was moving onto Brownies. It didn’t happen like that at all. She volunteered me, told the school too and then my mum and then I got to know about it. I don’t know how others would have reacted, but I asked what Rainbows was, I, when a Brownie for a little while and a Girlguide for a little while was vaguely aware of seeing young girls in red tabards and wondered who they were (the uniform has changed, even in my time), and thought I’d better go and see what was going on. It turned out the people running it, I already knew; one ran a youth club and the other helped out at the primary school and I knew her kids, who by this time were late teens. I was still pretty young myself. I had a plan. It was just after Easter holidays, so I’d stay until the summer holidays. That was the plan…… it didn’t work out like that. I was rather enjoying helping out, so I stayed.
I mucked in on every activity going, even when I was a regular helper, from crafts to games to outings, including big county outings to safari parks and more… I did it all.
In Girlguiding there is also a real qualification you can do to gain Assistant or Full Leadership. For those interested, it also means something to employers.
I apparently became the youngest Rainbows Leader in the district I was in. Groups were in districts, so the District Commissioner had informed me. This district was made of Girlguiding groups between a village and a town. I was apparently the first person to have a waiting list in the village I served, which grew as long as my arm. It made District Meetings interesting for awhile as the joke was that I stood on the street hauling them in as for a good while I was reporting that I had new joiners.
When I did take over, I made some changes, but also kept some good things from the previous leadership because they worked and also out of respect. The previous leadership were the first ever in the place I ended up leading. It also gave a sense of heritage/history to it. To me, that sort of thing is important.
I had been asked many a time to be an assistant leader. I declined due to studies (not a degree). When that was all done, I approached the subject and they were delighted. In other words, they now had their successor in the making and got me a mentor. The course takes approximately 2 years to complete. It isn’t like hitting the books and feeling like a student again. It takes a more practical approach with some writing up for evidence, with some visits from the mentor. I had joined in on everything as a regular helper, so I took just under 2 years to complete. This is not something I had to pay for and they paid for PVG checks.
During my time of leading a Rainbows Unit, I contributed to Thinking Day arts and crafts. I covered many topics. A small handful of them were: wellbeing – they created friendship booklets, played games focussed on positivity, created a positive poster about themselves and more… the environment (including the rainforest, which involved music and collages for a bigger wall picture), healthy eating (food and talks), poverty, Rainbows around the world (learning how to say hello and goodbye in different languages, creating passports of where they themselves and other Rainbows come from in the world and doing an activity they would do in their country), and so much more… There were games, crafts, songs, baking, theatre trips to a small local theatre, stories from books, chances for the girls to say how their week was going etc.
If I had been on holiday and seen something interesting, I would take a pic, create something to talk about etc, relating to that or I would just have an idea for the next term anyway, even if Rainbows was on holiday and would prepare bits for starting back and ensure the data base was up to date and deal with the enquiries. Even on holiday, even when I had finished being a leader, I still came across people who were in Girlguiding. I just end up talking to folk and on one occassion on The Thames on a boat, I was talking to a couple of people and it transpired that they too were Rainbows Leaders, so as we were talking, I exchanged some ideas.
During my time in Rainbows, we also helped other charities. We raised money for Strathcarron Hospice, Children In Need, WaterAid, International Nepal Foundation and then a number of other charities through Thinking Day.
The Patron (at time of me being a Rainbows Leader), was/is Sophie, Countess of Wessex (part of the Royal Family). She had an idea for Girlguiding to undertake one of the biggest projects and help a charity of our choice from a list like never before. It was exhausting, rewarding and marvellous all at the same time and somehow felt quite the honour.
Myself and my assistant decided on WaterAid. The challenge set for this was to host an event with songs, that we were given a CD and words for, about water and to raise money and WaterAid would provide a speaker. I already knew someone who had worked out in Nepal with INF and I knew he was great at giving interesting talks and had amazing photos. I invited him instead on the promise we would help him and the charity he was involved with back. We had nights of talking to the girls and doing brainstorm artwork about Nepal and the importance of water, poverty, the location and more… We also did a lot of rehearsing and had persuaded the Brownies to be on-board. We invited parents to attend the talk from my friend, song from us and the girls and tea and nibbles. I can’t remember how much we raised, but I remember it being quite a lot.
I did, as promised, have my friend back again to show photos and give a talk. The girls had done a sponsored silence for a long time (half at Rainbows, half at home. We got a lot of praise from the parents for the quietness as they took is seriously) and they raised a fair amount of money.
There was a Girlguiding Centenary, so I also helped with this. I also, which was so much fun, had joined my Rainbows unit at the bottom of a glen for HRH The Queen’s Diamond Jubillee celebrations (We had previously written to HRH The Queen. I had got the girls to draw her pictures, that I then created into a card, and everyone signed their name and I popped a letter in it. We were all amazed an excited when someone wrote back with a lovely letter and a card with beautiful picture of HRH Queen inside. We had also had our own Queen’s Jubillee party, and everyone dressed in red, white and blue). That night, after some festivities, us leaders took to the hills and climbed to the top to meet some Scouts who then lit a beacon.
Around the wee small hours in the morning we made our descent off of the hills. Just as we were going down. the moon was massive and felt so close and was as red as red could be. It was a magical night and one I’ll always remember.
Girls came back to Rainbows in their teenage years to become helpers and I had one who returned to do the Volunteer part for her Duke of Edinburgh Award. I mentored her and wrote the reports for her Bronze Award, which she completed and gained. I wrote job references for her and another and a university reference for one of them too.
I was there through good times and hard times, like illness in the family (nothing contageous), because family wanted me to continue no matter what. So, that’s what I did. I’d seen good and hard times in families too and supported as much as I could, despite my young years in age.
Years later, when I retired from being part of a Rainbows Unit,I was persuaded into Friends of Guiding and remained for a few years. This group supports units with projects. I went out to a Brownies unit to help them create basic jewellery. I also, ended up assisting some other units via online, in many parts of the UK, here and there and some people who wanted to volunteer, but weren’t sure.
I have on occasion come across, some now, rather grown-up folk who were in my Rainbows and who were at that Brownies event, who still remember.
I remember the send-off I got from my unit. Apparently there were plans to ambush me into going to the AGM if I backed out of going. Little did I know what was in-store. Loads of people were there for the meeting and the meal. I was then presented with gifts. So between gifts from them and gifts from my own unit, I got a huge cards signed by everyone, a Willow People ornament, a vase, a Love, Laugh Live photo frame that now holds all sorts of photos, a gift voucher, wine and chocolates. I must say I was absolutey astonished and a wee bit overcome.
Putting Green Fingers to use – a community church garden
A church I went to, in an area I used to live in, needed some attention to the garden. The weeds were all over the place and plants were overgrown. It was getting to be a bit like “The Day of the Triffids”. There was a volunteer tending to it, who couldn’t no longer and there hadn’t been any thoughts as to what to do with it. Some of the Elder’s were making tentative moves to suggest someone take it over. I was still at Rainbows at this time, but now also had a garden to tend to as well. I persuaded the elders that I could tackle it. I also persuaded them that it needed new soil and compost, plants and boards for edging to keep the soil in. Folk then teamed up and put the soil and boards in. (I was at a Rainbows trip at the time).
I varnished the boards, then dug up all the plants (there were quite a lot) and replanted the few that were good. I also persuaded them to give me a budget to buy new plants. So, I got creating. That got the attention of the people in the town, who appreciated it, especially since it was on a main road. One day a professional gardener who told me he worked in a garden for a big historic house, had most surprising p high praise indeed. I was pretty astounded as I hadn’t done anything like that before. I had only the knowledge passed down from my grandparents and parents and the little gardening I had done in the years prior to this and that was may grandparent’s and parent’s gardens, so far from public.
When a Pastor, who had served for many years was moving away, I planted a buddleja in his honour because he had a passion for butterflies and knew what they were all called. I also presented him with a certificate with a picture of it on, on his leaving night party. Again, because history matters.
I helped out at the Sunday Club for a few sessions here and there and was also on the flower rota for the church for a year.
All The World’s A Stage – musical theatre
I helped out with a local very good Amateur Musical Theatre Group. I was asked my someone I knew to help in wardrobe to help actors in costume changes. (I was still at Rainbows for some of the time I did this and did the garden, but left the musical theatre group years after both of those). I had never done anything like it before, but thought I’d give it a go. The musical was Anything Goes by Cole Porter. The changes were fast (normally they manage themselves). So, there I was in an unglamourous backstage area at rehearsals and of course, during the live performance. I was in charge of helping some of the guys and keeping them right, especially one who had asked me to remind him about certain props he had upstairs etc. I learnt who needed what when, organised the clothes in order and listened for what I decided would be the cues to be in position, for near the end of songs/acts etc.
My stint didn’t stop there. I was then told to meet someone in charge of front of house, since that was the only musical they needed extra people in wardrobe for. She had been impressed and wanted me to stay on and be part of her team. I sold programmes and raffle tickets and directed people to seats. I saw the cast do many musicals, including Hello Dolly South Pacific, Evita by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Chicago, to name but a few. I had decided after 10 years, I would end my tenure there and ended on Chicago.
Musicals would run for almost a week, including a matinee, I was there for all of the week and then most of the week, due to work commitments of the time.
Chicago was to be the last musical before lockdown and one of the last to be performed in the country.
Human Trafficking Awareness
A21 Campaign was something a friend of the time had started to be involved with. I had not long finished up being a Rainbows Leader and had started to get itchy feet to do some different charity work.
I got involved with someone I knew, with what she was doing with A21 Campaign. It’s a charity which raises awareness about Human Trafficking. It happens in many countries in the world. They also have people within many countries saving people (most are young and teenage girls). Together, as well as sharing some of their posts on social media, we teamed up and got a few other folk together and created anonymous packages of kindness for those saved. These packages would include the essentials, such as a bar of soap and other toiletries and more, a message of hope and kindness and a nicety such as handmade bracelets and earrings that we would create. Our designated destination was Greece, where girls were being saved. We would send parcels out once a month. In the winter months, we had someone knitting all different sizes of hats too. Every so often we would receive letters of thanks back from the person in charge of this and saying news of what was happening in Greece. We did this for a few years.
Filling in the Gaps – libraries turning to volunteers and setting up from scratch…
Like lots of the UK, libraries are closing. My local one did, that was also within a community centre, so the whole lot closed, until a group started to reset it up. I ended up on the committee and then on the board for awhile, until I decided I couldn’t do everything and needed to solely turn my attentions onto the library, once it was up and running.
I had worked in libraries before. I started as a relief library assistant. To put in brief, I learnt the ropes and then managed to get a temporary contract and got a branch library to run. I got involved in some events, ran Bookbug and was trained by Scottish Booktrust, made general aesthetic improvements, got schools interested and staff intrigued, helped out at events at the main library, where staff were once paid, and suddenly were not. Then came the bigger cuts… So not to get into the politics, I’ll get back to the voluntary work.
So, all the skills I had learned and cultivated over this time, I took to the community library. I got volunteers, who I trained to do what was required. Was it all that easy? No. All the existing shelves and many books were removed by the council. So, myself and some others negotiated shelving and got some from another disused library and I knew a man with a van to come and help. Team members built up, some for a particular task, such as helping repaint the walls and do murals. I am especially pleased with one that has flying books. There are also lovely trees and wonderful chalkboard paint went on some walls too, which kids and parents make use of.
I then, with the occasional help of other people, sorted through the books the council left to see what was there and checked them off from the lists they created. A joiner made up the shelves and myself and another person put the shelves into the frames and of course got what books we had up. Sounds fast when writing it like this. I put in all the hours. I was there inbetween work and after work and some weekends. I did whatever it took to get it looking like a library. We also created library cards and a system for checking books in and out. Members of the general public nicknamed me “Library Woman” and asked if I had a camp bed in there. It was rather cute and funny. One of the people helping me with the books was a teen who was also doing his Duke of Edinburgh Award, in which I mentored and wrote reports for, for the volunteer part.
The library did become full of books and soon there was also a supply for changeovers of stock, thanks to some generous authors and publishers donating, when they could and when I wrote and also the public. Any new books were labelled as in a public library and the non-fiction, Dewey numbered and put in the correct order. Shelves were also then labelled.
Once the library was ready to open, there was a soft opening and later a grand opening where I, with a few volunteers decided what we wanted to do for this. I’d spoken with the press, who attended. We invited local businesses and local dignitories and some councillor’s and MSPs. Some of whom did attend. The place was buzzing with people saying they expected a shelf or two of tatty books and yet got so much more…
We had an author, reading from her adult book and a children’s book. There were craft activities that were created to go with the children’s book, devised by another volunteer. It had been all hands to the pump to get all sorts of food and cakes and some members of the public also helped with cake baking.
The library had reopened fully and in-fashion. People borrowed books and attended Bookbug, which I negotiated with a co-ordinator to bring it back. I also created, what we think is the first Lego Club in the county, in which the library is located. I had spoken online around 11pm my time, to a guy who worked at Lego. I had created a plan of how to combine books and Lego together. I don’t know if you have to talk to Lego or not, but I did. I ran my idea passed him and he loved it. Lego Club also attracted the local press. We created further author events and some supermarkets also helped with food and drink donations for them.
Covid struck…. Libraries and everything closed. Lockdown 1 happened. So, I ploughed through 100s of pages of the new government legislation to get ready for the future. I created an overview and then a stage by stage plan for when things changed again. Many calls were made between me and a small team, who basically agreed with what I’d said and declared it thorough and another created a risk assessment to go with it and meetings with a board member ensued. Many a late night of working into the wee small hours then occurred to create a click and collect system and a public catalogue of books, plus blurbs (bearing in mind we have nothing that a public library may use. This was yet another thing from scratch). I sat up to the wee small hours sometimes with Glastonbury on in the background and working on click and collect an in another house, so was my assistant.
I worked away on what needed doing, alongside grieving for my gran who died from Covid-19. I also, at that time entered a competition ran by The Book Trust and Penguin for The Thursday Murder Club. You had to write why a library should win… I wrote everything I could think of that went into creating the library. I won it for the library.
Lockdown eased. Libraries could re-open for click and collect. We were ready to go and we reopened as far as we could, until lockdown 2 occurred. We are currently doing things in the background as the layout of the library has been changed by someone, so we are resetting it all over again, but we did get Bookbug up and running again with live in-person sessions for part of a Festival of Wellbeing.
Singing a Song
A choir had set up online for those who had lost someone to Covid. I had lost my gran in a carehome. A song and music had been composed by someone about people who had died. It went onto music streaming apps and the BBC had picked it up for their show about Covid. The money raised went to helping create a memorial for those who lost lives at St. Paul’s Cathedral and so people won’t forget what happened and so future generations can learn what occurred. On top of this I also supported many people during the height of the Pandemic as much as I possibly could. I listened, cared etc, sometimes people who had lost someone, sometimes it was people who had returned to the NHS, sometimes carers, sometimes people who were just trying to get through it, sometimes in the UK, sometimes abroad. It wasn’t anything official, but I just did this to help a bit.
I feel like doing walks for charities. I have done the Kilt Walk for MS Charities and I think I’ll do a few charitable walks over the next few years.
Continuing to review on my blog and Twitter etc as it seems to be useful to readers, authors, publishers and being an advanced reader to a publisher. All of which I do to voluntarily help and is all free, bar whatever a publisher loses when supplying a book or if I’m lucky, a book festival ticket for free, in exchange of honest reviews.
Even Further In The Future
Maybe discover what it is like to not volunteer. It occurred to me over lockdown 1 when someone asked how long I had volunteered for, that for practically all my adult life, I’ve volunteered and one day I would like to know what it is like not to…. Not yet though. So Watch This Space for what comes next…