Last week was  Volunteering Week, which takes place annually in the UK from 1-7 June. It is an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of volunteering as well as recognise the contribution that volunteers make to society. This year’s theme has been “Volunteering for all” people from all walks of life getting involved in all types of volunteering. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) defines volunteering as any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, close relatives. Central to this definition is the fact that volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual.

Volunteering has been something very dear to my heart for a long time. It has provided me with opportunities to develop my skills in ways that just would not have been possible in a traditional workplace. Whilst at the University of Leeds I volunteered for the Burley Lodge Centre, now called Better Leeds Community. A centre that does so much to bring the local community together through youth work, participation events and guidance support. I supported youth workers, volunteered in the community cafe and became a non-executive board member. I was 21 at the time, where would I have had the opportunity to this? This gave me a real insight into finance, staffing, volunteering processes and risk management. I was part of a Board with local MPs , Councillors and local professionals.

Sad to say, my second significant volunteering experience in 2005 wasn’t so great. However, in hindsight I have no regrets about this. It was a project through the European Voluntary Service (EVS). I am unsure how much longer it may exist, but that’s a different story. I went to Barcelona to work in a centre supporting newly arrived immigrants. In essence, it was disorganised, unstructured, lacking safeguarding measures and frustrating to navigate. Nevertheless, it opened my eyes to the reality of what people go through for a better life. Even though Britain is far from perfect, I found policies, processes and procedures to be a lot worse. I can’t say I learnt particular professional skills, but I did come back fluent in Spanish, and met others from around the globe volunteering in different projects. It also helped me to understand how to navigate challenges in different environments. Interestingly made me feel the most British I had ever done in my life! It also ignited my thinking about cultural communication, which forms a key strand of the work I do now.

In terms of the Five Ways of Wellbeing, one of the key elements is Give. This could be giving your time, your presence or your money. Humans are wired to give back and volunteering is a way to do this. You may be surprised to know, individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. It’s also important to remember that it may not be the right time for you, to take on a big volunteering project. If you cannot commit to a regular session or organisation, that’s ok. Focus on what you are doing now and what you could do in the future. This will enable you to carve out the time and space for the giving that you want to do.

I am now very privileged to be School Governor at Manor High School, using the skills I developed throughout by career in a secondary educational context. I am part of a Board of amazing Governors and it’s an exciting time for this school as it transitions to become an 11-16 school undertaking GSCEs for the first time in 2019. It is also a school that has lead the way in becoming a multi-academy trust. I have seen the amazing work they do for pupils’ wellbeing, development and attainment. Yes, I give time, but I feel the rewards for me both personally and professionally cannot be quantified. For me a life without volunteering just isn’t as much fun or as rich.

For more information about volunteering here are some useful websites Time BankNCVOand DoIt. For more information about becoming a School Governor, the National Governance Association has all you need to know.

As always let me know how volunteering and giving has impacted positively on your life by commenting below.