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Activism

Everything you needed to know about volunteering to get stuck in

How do you get involved in volunteering? And what can you do? We’ve answered all your questions to help you get started

Times are tough, but that doesn’t mean they’re hopeless. If you’re looking around at the generalstate of things and feeling an urge to help, volunteering might be the one.

But, like getting involved in anything, it can be hard to know where to start.

Here’s everything you need to know, and all your questions answered.

What is volunteering and why is it important?

Volunteering is very simple: it’s giving up your time for free to work for an organisation or help others. 

It’s important because people fall through the cracks. Underfunded public services coupled with growing need mean existing, professional services may not have the time or resources to help. Even when they do, volunteers can play an important role in supporting them, and making sure more people get help.

And the scores of charities around the country rely on the work of volunteers to keep the wheels turning.

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What are examples of volunteering?

You might have a certain idea of volunteering: working in a charity shop, a soup kitchen, or as a phone buddy to an elderly person.

And those are definitely true. But it can be incredibly varied – almost any sector or type of work will likely have some voluntary roles.

For animal lovers, there are opportunities to work with animals – from dog walking to looking after injured animals.

The more sporty among us may find getting stuck in at a local sports organisation a perfect opportunity. Or if your knees have gone, coaching or refereeing is an option.

You can volunteer with the NHS, to help support services in your community. In the NHS alone, there are over 300 types of volunteer roles.

The range of opportunities is almost endless – and can fit whatever your passion is.

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What do you do as a volunteer?

It’s varied work. You might be working at an event, or on the front line of a service.

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be customer-facing, and one of the most rewarding aspects of volunteering is being able to find something to match your skills – or help you develop new ones.

If you’re an accountant, you might be able to help do the books or admin for a charity.

Plenty of charities and organisations also need help with committee work – if you want to help keep the show on the road, you might find a role.

You’re also likely to find something that fits your availability – there are plenty of opportunities available at weekends and in the evenings. Some roles may require greater commitment, and long-term availability, while others can be done on a more ad-hoc basis.

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Where can I volunteer and how can I get involved?

This will differ based on where you are. National charities may have outposts everywhere. There may also be local charities and grassroots organisations which need volunteers – but may not be advertising.

If there’s an organisation in your area helping the community, it’s always worth getting in touch to see if they need an extra pair of hands.

To give a few examples of national organisations, NHS England accepts volunteers, with opportunities for people from all ages or backgrounds. You could be running hospital radio shows or taking part in advisory groups.

The RSPB has hundreds of opportunities for time-rich ornithologists.

The Woodland Trust is looking for volunteers to help with its work preserving the UK’s forests and woodlands.

Age UK offers opportunities from working in its shops to signing up for a regular phone call with an older person.

Fans of historic mansions and well-kept gardens may find their place getting involved with the National Trust.

If you’re 16 or 17, taking part in the the National Citizen Service is a good option.

Where can I volunteer near me?

If you’re looking for the best place to volunteer in your area, most local authorities have an online hub. With 333 local authorities in England alone, a search engine may be more use than a list.

Equally, you may findNationally, the NCVO has a centre finder, to help you find one of its network of accredited volunteer centres. Do IT also provides a national database of opportunities, while the government website has a list of databases, if you’re into lists of lists.

But for the UK’s different regions, these links may be helpful:

Where are volunteers most needed?

Now is a critical time for many volunteer-led organisations. Some of the country’s most recognisable organisations are warning that shortages could put their operations at risk.

St John Ambulance is seeking 5,000 volunteers, with a shortage threatening the rollout of the Covid booster programme.

The National Trust is also warning that some of its properties may have to shut, with its volunteer numbers down 15,000 on pre-pandemic levels.

On a hyper-local level, Llangollen Museum in north Wales is warning it will have to close unless it finds more volunteers. It’s a bit far for most people, but serves as a reminder that, it might be worth getting in touch to see how your local initiatives are doing.

If puppies are your thing, organisations in both Harrogate and Edinburgh are seeking volunteers. Hearing Dogs for Deaf People needs volunteers to train puppies for deaf people after seeing a 30 per cent increase in demand for its services. It trains Cockapoos, Labradors, Miniature Poodles, and Cocker Spaniels.

In Plymouth, a new service needs volunteers to accompany bereaved relatives and witnesses to inquests. The Coroners’ Court Support Service is launching in the area, and volunteers will need to be empathetic and supportive.

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