Volunteers Week - A Fresh Eye on Volunteering!
2nd June, 2016
Every year since its inception in 1984, the first week in June has been set aside for ‘Volunteers’ Week’. Seven days during which organisations all over the country can give their thanks to the 21 million people who chose to volunteer in the UK every year.
This year however, an extra five days have been added to the week of celebrations. This allows for five more days of events, five more days of raising awareness and five more days of giving thanks to the men and women up and down the country who continue to donate their time and energy to hundreds and thousands of worthy causes.
Integrated Neurological Services is just one of the charities in Richmond Borough who will be saying thank you to all their hard-working volunteers over the next twelve days. As a small, local charity it relies heavily on the time, skills and dedication of its ever growing pool of volunteers, without whom it would struggle to function and achieve many of the successes it’s had over the last twenty one years.
Despite being one of the newest volunteers at INS, I’ve spent the majority of my four months here interviewing other volunteers for the charity. I’ve had a lot of time to consider what it is that makes people want to volunteer but also, more importantly, what it is that makes them continue to volunteer.
Since taking on the voluntary role of ‘Community Journalist’ I have had the good fortune of speaking to a number of people who have made this long term commitment to the charity. And I don’t just mean my measly four months, I’ve spoken to volunteers who have been helping out at the charity for three, six and even nine plus years. People without whose help, INS would not be recognisable as the organisation that it is today.
The reason for the longevity of their service differs from person to person, although there is an overwhelming sense of agreement that a large reason for people staying at INS is you’re not seen as just another volunteer. Everyone has a role, be that one they were assigned or one that they made up and carved out in their own unique way. Everyone has a role and no-one’s role is more important than anyone else’s.
One of the most important things when it comes to volunteering is that it’s not just about the benefits it has for you (building up some good karma, that impressive looking CV you’ll end up with, a widening of your social circle). Now, hear me out, there is no ‘wrong’ reason for becoming a volunteer. The world can never have enough volunteers, get out there and volunteer, people! However, more often than not you’ll end up learning that the warm feeling you get inside when you do something good might just end up being more about how you, as an individual, have benefited the charity by applying your unique talents to make the world an even better place.
The first volunteer I interviewed at INS told me she firmly believes that “that anyone who showed up to volunteer would find a way to fit in and use their experience to the advantage of the charity.” And please believe me when I tell you she’s not wrong.
If I were to ask you what an accountant, a librarian, a BBC Floor Manager and an English Literature graduate all had in common, (no it’s not the start of a bad joke), I don’t imagine you’d have them volunteering for a charity that helps people suffering from life-altering neurological conditions. Yet here we all are.
And that’s what Volunteers’ Week (plus five days) is all about; celebrating the unique skillset that each volunteer brings to their role. It’s acknowledging that the lady who stands outside the supermarket for six hours with a charity tin is just as vital to the organisation as the man who spends an hour each week checking that the fire extinguishers all work properly. It’s about letting the lady who pops along to make hot drinks at the monthly fundraiser know that she’s just as important and necessary as the man who drives clients to and from their weekly support groups.
Now, if I’m being totally honest, I, an aspiring writer, am maybe not quite as necessary to INS as the befrienders, the accountants and the fundraisers. However, never once over the last four months have I been made to feel like I wasn’t just as vital to the organisation as every single other person who has taken it upon themselves to contribute their time, talent and support to the charity.
And for me, that’s what Volunteers’ Week is all about.
Volunteer Community Journalist