Volunteers provide great energy and spark in any charity.
I first started volunteering with people with learning difficulties in Selby, in North Yorkshire, when I was 16.
I used to help in some classes and also play 5-a-side. I even appeared with the clients as a werewolf in a Halloween special!
It gave me invaluable exposure to work and people, but also a space to learn about myself. I was helping others and learning how to communicate with people.
That volunteering experience I got as a teenager, confirmed to me that my vocation lay in social care - but it also provided real experience to get me into paid work.
I still volunteer today.
I deliver the Nether Edge Neighbourhood News with my daughter and am a trustee for a charity helping people start their own social enterprises.
As a volunteer, I get more from it than I give back. I feel part of the area where I live and get to meet people I would not normally talk to. The students at the School for Social Entrepreneurs inspire me with their drive and innovation. I learn from them.
I got into working in drug and alcohol treatment through volunteering in Immingham in 1989. There, I helped raise awareness of the health risks of inhaling lighter fuel, as well as helping out in reception.
Essentially, I learnt how to get on with people and help them. As a fairly shy 19 year old, I had to dissuade one young man from beating me up and wash a man’s feet in a bowl of water. He had walked back in a paper suit from a police station and all the staff were out. There was no lone working policy then!
People like and trust volunteers, as we have no agenda and are giving our time for free. If you are lucky, as a volunteer you will meet people who will teach you about the work.
When I was a young volunteer, I could see that people like me and an older volunteer called Maurice provided the buzz and inspiration in the service and the diversity that reflects the communities we were serving.
For my part, I was able to bring my youthful enthusiasm into the mix. Maurice brought wisdom. Staff and service users responded with great generosity towards us.
Cynics often say volunteers provide free labour. This is nonsense. Some services like our neighbourhood news can only be done through people giving their time for free. In our charity, volunteers provide great diversity and can run activities and services that are not funded that make all the difference to our service users. And we recognise their talents. We have a conveyor belt of people moving into paid work.
Not long ago, I was in a community café and cinema in Leek in Staffordshire. A sign there summed up my beliefs:
‘Volunteers are not paid. Not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless’.
We are so lucky to have a great Board of Trustees, always willing to support us with their time and wisdom.
Christopher Mathews-Maxwell, our Vice Chair, sums up all that is good about our trustees. Tirelessly committing time to a cause and people he believes in and always helping and giving advice wherever he can.
People like Chris, who volunteer their time for free and who offer their enthusiasm and the wisdom of their life experience, inspire me in my own work every single day.