Volunteers play a crucial and often underappreciated role in our local communities. They commonly do it to help others – but volunteering is a powerful tool for helping yourself, too. It can provide a path towards paid work, and research has shown it can also boost your health.
All of us have at some point benefited from those who give up their time for free, whether it was at our favourite charity shop or at a local community event, such as the recent Ealing Half Marathon.
So many community projects rely on volunteers – and they make a huge contribution to everyday life in the borough. There is a website called Bubble which provides groups a forum to look for helpers – and for people like you to find somewhere to get involved in your community. Take a look at www.dosomethinggood.org.uk to see how you could make a difference to where you live.
Ealing Community and Voluntary Service (Ealing CVS), which receives a grant from Ealing Council, also organises a wide range of placements – including a scheme which offers volunteering opportunities that are specially tailored to people with health conditions, as you will discover later in this article.
WANT A CHANGE OF CAREER?
Volunteering can play a big role in getting people into work, or in changing career. You can gain experience, new skills and new social networks in the process. Toby Cray is living proof of that. He now has an interesting and rewarding job he loves, but he had spent more than 15 years working in a job in marketing that made him unhappy.
Toby, 44 at the time, was feeling so disillusioned that, one day, he just decided he could not face it any longer and quit.
Toby then decided to approach Ealing Volunteer Centre (which is part of Ealing CVS) at the Lido Centre in Ealing. He began volunteering there and found the work incredibly interesting. He also found that he had a great deal of valuable knowledge he could share with other people. After six months of volunteering, Toby was offered a paid role at the centre.
Toby said: “I hadn’t been happy for many years and I thought that perhaps I could transfer across into marketing for charities, but I found this route in to be impossible. To be honest, though, I don’t think it would have really given me the satisfaction of working directly with people that I get now.”
Councillor Peter Mason, the council’s cabinet member for prosperity, skills, employment and transformation, said: “Volunteers make a critical and inspirational contribution to our society that should never be underestimated. But not everyone realises that it is also an excellent way for someone to grow their skills-base and, perhaps, branch out into an area they are interested in pursuing as a career. It always looks good on someone’s CV.”
GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH
There is now good evidence to suggest that volunteering can help improve self-esteem, wellbeing and social engagement skills.
Furthermore, research suggests the benefits for those with long-term health conditions may be even more pronounced.
Consequently, Ealing Council is supporting a Help Your Health volunteering project, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, which is helping people with long-term health conditions. It is being run by Ealing Volunteer Centre, and Toby is one of the staff members working on it.
Toby said: “Potential volunteers are advised as to what kind of role might be most suitable, given their individual health conditions. Once agreed, they then embark on an initial 12-week volunteering placement and keep in close contact with the volunteer centre during that time.
“It has helped numerous people with long-term health conditions grow in confidence and increase their self-esteem. It has helped provide structure to their lives and led many to find routes to training, further education and jobs.”
Charlotte* dropped out of university suffering from anxiety and depression. She began volunteering as an assistant at an animal charity and soon became an integral member of the team. She felt so much better that she was able to return to university.
Barbara* has a learning disability and suffers from epilepsy and was struggling to find employment. She began volunteering two days a week in a homeless kitchen, but enjoyed it so much she increased that to five days a week. After six months there, she found paid work in the catering industry.
Finlay* has several physical ailments including back, leg and stomach pain and is a carer for his disabled partner. He is unable to sit or stand for long periods of time, but really wanted to volunteer. He was placed at a charity shop where he has enjoyed being part of the team and his physical ailments have all improved.
Councillor Hitesh Tailor, the council’s cabinet member for health and adult services, said: “This excellent programme is transforming lives. Many of the participants had previously been unemployed or socially isolated for several years. Volunteering can make a big difference to your own health and wellbeing, as well as to the community at large.”
*Not their real names. Names changed to protect their identities.
If you are interested in finding out more about the volunteer programme for people with health conditions, contact Toby Cray at firstname.lastname@example.org call 020 8280 2230