Paying it Forward, one person at a time… – Mily’s Story

My volunteering experience was a genuinely satisfying one.

This was a couple years ago and so now I’m thinking of re-devoting some of my time to volunteering activities. I volunteered for older people who wished to acquire more knowledge, skills and the know-how in operating IT equipment at a basic to intermediate level. They wanted to learn how to use a laptop, how to send emails, etc. This also included other activities one does online like shopping, creating or setting up online accounts, online banking and how to handle privacy settings within apps, browsers and services like Facebook.

At first, before I started, there was a registration of interest from my side, followed by an interview with a charity manager at their head offices in central London. In the interview I was asked about my desire and inclination to volunteer in this particular sector. I replied saying my own grandparents, before they passed on, were keen on learning new things as they were lifelong learners, something I wish to see in myself growing up. And I wanted to encourage the same habit and proclivity among others in the older age-group.

The experience, to my initial surprise and gradual understanding, was a mutually beneficial one. It is said that if you want to learn something better, teach. I learnt with this experience, that it not only is a free way of increasing my confidence, but it is also a fantastic method of gaining experience in a chosen field. This experience can come in handy when you are looking for jobs, not just in that particular sector, but in most sectors, as volunteering transcends set boundaries of industry.

As regards something I disliked about the experience, to be honest I didn’t care too much for the travel. It was a number of buses I had to change and there was no direct route on the underground. There was also some initial nervousness about the whole thing as I had not done it before. So I didn’t quite know what to expect. After the first time though, it felt like a piece of cake.

I would definitely encourage volunteering. I think it is only right to mention that I was not born here. So it also freed me and gave me more confidence communicating and interacting with people I was helping! I felt the tables turn and that was a positive, empowering experience. I believe everyone, regardless of their current academic, professional or social status, should do some volunteering. It opens up one’s mind and emancipates us in a way that is inexplicable overall. The entire experience may not be 100 percent pleasurable or enjoyable, but if you stick with it you are bound to reap the benefits. Consider it a marathon, not a race.

When I was given the opportunity to write a blog post about it, I welcomed it. I hope more people will take a step forward and do something for someone, in some way you know, like in the movie Pay it Forward.


Volunteering During The Holidays – Emily’s Story

I began volunteering a few months ago during the holidays; I’d always wanted to volunteer but never felt confident enough to do it alone. At first, it seemed like a daunting and time-consuming process that required a high level of organisation I didn’t think I had. But I soon discovered how many opportunities were available to me; hundreds of companies, charities and shops were searching for volunteers right in my area. I also realised that volunteering isn’t just about helping others, but can also be a chance to achieve personal goals. Not only does it make your CV look good for a sixth form or job application, but it also allows you to obtain many skills you can take through your whole life. I’ve been aiming for a 100-hour volunteering award which can be a struggle, but nothing good comes without its challenges, including volunteering. It can sometimes take hours of searching online for the perfect volunteering opportunity that is flexible and suits you; I’ve probably spent more time searching for volunteering roles than actual volunteering! Once I spent hours trying to get a volunteering position at a charity shop only to never get the role. However, it is important never to give up or lose hope – as there are always many other roles to find.

Something important to me is finding roles that are flexible. Since at the moment I’m very busy with home and schoolwork, I’ve particularly enjoyed volunteering for one-off events and speed volunteering – such as being an events cheerer at marathons. I’ve been able to volunteer for amazing charities like the NSPCC and Alzheimer’s Society.

Most recently I volunteered with the NSPCC as an events cheerer at the Colour Run with my friend – we got to cheer on hundreds of marathon runners, some even in pushchairs, whilst throwing coloured powder.

I’d encourage everyone to volunteer, and I have inspired many of my friends to start volunteering as well. You’re able to give back to an organisation that has impacted your life or impact on other people’s lives. I’ve gained confidence and self-esteem since volunteering and have been able to feel valued as part of a team. I started volunteering at fifteen; so no matter how young you are, you can always find somewhere to volunteer. Volunteering is a way to make a mark on the causes you care about and doing good – makes you feel good!


Volunteer For Many Different Reasons – Brendan’s Story

I volunteer a lot, for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it’s because I want to mingle with important people or I want to hone some skills and beef up my CV. Other times I simply want to get some free food or free entry into a music festival. Neither of these are necessarily good or bad, but each volunteer’s motivation is important to know. If one offers to help at an exposition on sustainable food systems hoping to get some relevant experience and make connections, they might be disappointed when they are tasked to do coat check (this happened to me and it was an important lesson). One might also be annoyed when they simply wanted free entry into a theatre festival and found themselves to be way over their head in technical jargon..

In this story, I volunteered for the most simple reason: I was bored.

I was stuck in a rut and needed some new stimulation. I looked up “speed volunteering” on the Team London website, as since my job has unpredictable shifts I can’t commit to a set time slot. I found a posting for a video transcription assignment with Worldwrite in Hackney. Watch a video of an interview, write down what they say, and send it back. I had a vague desire to work on my writing skills (yes, that is why I’m also doing this blog piece), so I gave it a go.

Turns out it was a lot more work than I expected. I struggled to get it done on time and had to stay up really late on the last night to finish. They asked to simply do as much as I could, but I gave my word, and I was determined to finish and do a good job. The hard work paid off: They were very happy with it, and followed with an invitation to do a two-day film making workshop the following week.

Day 1: An intensive hands-on camera training session to learn lighting, filters, exposure, aperture, angles, sound, microphones, etc.
Day 2: Set up a film shoot outside Dalston underground station and interview strangers on the street for a documentary project they have in the works. The other volunteers and I jumped in with both feet!

We also got the rundown on all the projects they had on the go, what they needed done and how we could help. I was hooked. Since that first video transcription, I have done two more, worked on multiple film shoots, did some archive research, helped set up for a fundraising party, pitched an idea for a segment, and met loads of people.

What’s noteworthy is my original motivation. I was just bored! If I had really been specifically interested in writing, I probably would have turned down the filmmaking tutorial and missed out on everything else. But since I wasn’t looking for anything specific, I decided to ride with it and see where it could lead. In this case, it has awaken a dormant passion for film.


I Didn’t Know What To Expect – Oweshia’s Story

I started volunteering so that I would be able to develop the skills I need to get a job. My life had already been changed because of an illness and I was unsure of what I wanted to do for a living, so I looked online, and came across my local volunteer centre’s website who had many voluntary roles advertised on their site including their own. I didn’t want to travel far because of my illness and applied directly to the volunteer centre.

When I started volunteering I felt out of place because I didn’t know what to expect, as far as I was concerned I was going into the unknown and it bothered me. The staff were friendly, the environment wasn’t extremely busy, but it was something to do that kept my eyes off my situation. The role wasn’t glamorous, nor was it what I envisioned for myself as a career, and I was the youngest of the mixed age team, with not much life experience I was determined to adapt to my new surroundings and do the best that I could in my new position. I was providing reception and administrative support to the volunteering team, what I enjoyed the most about my work was the variety of tasks that I was given. From answering customer enquiries by email, face to face and on the phone to training new volunteers. I also had the opportunity to try out another voluntary role with the volunteer centre as an advisor, giving advice and information about how to get into volunteering to individuals who needed help to find work experience or just to do something with their time. Most individuals that I had met had personal reasons for wanting to volunteer, some had specific interests, for instance, they wanted to volunteer with the elderly or with children.

The best thing about my volunteering experience was working directly with people and being able to find out what their queries were and how they could be resolved. I loved hearing thank you and seeing the smiles once I had dealt with their enquiries. How amazing is that! I worked with a variety of people who I thought I’d never meet, although there were challenging times I wouldn’t change anything about my experience.

Volunteering has boosted my self-confidence and helped me to improve on existing skills and gain new ones which are great for my CV. After being in this role for some time, my aim was to use this experience to get a job in administration. I have decided not to do this as I want to explore other areas, but I am still happy that I had the opportunity to gain such valuable experience and be a part of the laughter at morning and afternoon break – tea time. I enjoyed being a part of a mixed age team as all ideas are valued and everyone was made to feel welcome. If there was anything that I didn’t know, there was always someone around to help me when if I needed it.

If there is anybody who is unsure about what do for a living, I would say give volunteering a try you might just like it.


Volunteering Has Changed Me – Sara’s Story

I grew up in a small Albanian city. I was fortunate that my parents could send me to a good private college and provide me with everything I needed as a child.

They also introduced me to volunteering at an early age to keep me grounded, cultivate a sense of helping others and a compassionate person in life.

Life for orphaned children is very difficult in Albania. In my hometown, we had one of the biggest orphan houses in the country, and this is where I first started to volunteer at the age of 15. My family and I would go every few months and bring food, pre-owned clothes, colouring books, and spend a whole evening talking and playing with the children. The staff at the orphan house was very welcoming and very happy when they would hear that we were going.

At the end of that year, we started a donation campaign at my parents’ business, something not very common in Albania at that time. Organising a party promoting the business helped, as my parents had plenty of toys, balloons and banners for children. We put a notice on the windows that we were collecting Christmas presents for the orphaned children. We were surprised by how many presents we collected the first year. We ended up storing part of them in our house! Gifts included school bags, clothes, toys, books, and even an old laptop. The day we brought the gifts to the children is still so fresh in my mind. The smiles on their face and the hope in their eyes, was something that has touched me very profoundly.

We continued to do this every year until I came to study in the UK. However, my parents still go occasionally to bring presents like we have always done. In the meanwhile, I have created ‘Ese dhe Analiza Letrare’, an award-winning educational blog. Its aim is to provide Albanian students free, high-quality additional study materials for the preparation of the final high school exams ( the equivalent of A-levels in the UK). Students from the rural areas and from disadvantaged backgrounds have far less access to supplementary study materials than the urban children. ‘Ese dhe Analiza Letrare’ addresses this gap and operates to make study materials accessible for everyone, regardless of what is in one’s pocket. To date, the blog counts over 2.6 million hits and it is a very active educational hub.

One might think that I have too much free time to engage in volunteering. In fact, I am a part-qualified accountant on the way to becoming an auditor. My working hours are long and I study for my professional qualification exams. However, volunteering is something I do to keep myself fulfilled. At the end of the day I can say that my actions don’t include just sitting in the office testing accounts, but that I am helping a student in my home country Albania, or maybe inspiring someone to volunteer; that can be you.


Volunteering, how it can help you and others – Carminella’s Story

Giving your time to help others is such a wonderful thing, whether it is volunteering your time to give aid to a charity organisation or small acts of kindness every day to those in need, these acts can truly make a huge positive impact not only to others but also to help heal yourself.

In 2011 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, both quite debilitating mental health conditions, which have caused no end of issues over the years in terms of work, relationships and general day-to-day functioning, casting shadows of doubt over your own abilities. The feeling it leaves you with is one of hopelessness and of uselessness, like your not capable of contributing anything good to the world. This was particularly the case back in 2014, I had been working in retail which had completely taken its toll on my mental health so had to reduce my working hours and was feeling very low about my whole situation but I was left with this feeling like I needed to do something, something which was not focusing on sales for profit, something where I felt like I was contributing to society in a more positive way so this is when I signed up to volunteer at my local museum. Museums are usually at the centre of any community, providing a space for local children to learn or play, areas to encourage local wildlife conservation, local community engagement and of course exhibition space allowing all to visit providing free education of local history and/or natural history.

A lot of these museums offer free entry and only ask for a small donation if you are able to provide it allowing the museum to remain free for the many, also allowing people from all walks of life access to the educational aspects the museum provides, or to be a part of the larger community engagement projects. With volunteering, you get to be one of the people that make this happen, that enables this to continue and allows it to grow. With volunteering, you meet so many interesting people, most of the time just people who want to share their stories, thoughts or feelings because they do not have anyone else to talk to or those who feel they cannot talk to those around them. Not only do you get to help these people in small but totally significant ways you get to develop skills and build belief in yourself again. By helping to heal others you find ways to heal yourself.

Since that time, I have gone on to sign up for volunteering in two London-based museums dedicated to mental health, well-being and the arts. Each day you grow stronger, and each day you help someone new.

Carminella Knight

A route to starting your career – Charlotte’s Story

I first started volunteering for one reason: to gain experience to secure a paid job. But I got so much more from it than that.

I was 15 when I first volunteered, which was for my local Red Cross Charity Shop. In 2009, it had become much harder to get a job that could give a teenager with no work experience some pocket money. I hoped that by volunteering on Saturday mornings in a charity shop, I would get the experience that high street shops were looking for. But I enjoyed the flexibility, the friendliness and feeling of contributing to a great cause more than I thought I could enjoy having a paid job as a shop assistant. As a teenager, my confidence was low and my anxiety high, and in reality I didn’t really want a job on top of the pressure I was already under. At the charity shop, I met people from many different walks of life and it was a refreshing break from the dramas of school. A few years later, just before I started university, I did get a job working at a small shop one day a week. It was nice to have a bit of extra cash and I wouldn’t have got the job without my experience at the Red Cross Shop.

In the summer at the end of my first year at university, I helped out at a day centre for the homeless called Catching Lives. At the time, I didn’t think much of what I was doing – they had a lot of donations and I sold some on eBay for them as a bit of extra fundraising. But this project later became an important experience to mention in job interviews. Often it’s hard to see the skills and experience you’ve gained and how to sell them. But trust me, after some practice, they become obvious.

At university, it was clear how hard it was for graduates to get their careers started and how much job experience some of my peers had. I needed to do something to firstly figure out what area of work I wanted to go into, and then gain some experience and skills towards getting there. I knew I wanted to work in the charity sector, and after some research, I found that policy and campaigns fitted my passion, skills, and degree well. I applied for a volunteer internship at Breast Cancer Campaign to try it out and was successful. I spent a month of my second year summer in this role and loved it. It eased a lot of my worries about full time work and made it clear that I could do it, and do it well.

I continued to volunteer in order to expand my experiences and meet new people. I was a volunteer receptionist at the Student Union Advice Centre in my last year of university. A year later, my first policy job was only part time so I volunteered one day a week at Guide Dogs in campaigns and public affairs. Without both of these experiences and the insights I gained, it’s unlikely that I would be in my current job at Mind as Policy and Campaigns Assistant.

Reflecting on my volunteering, I can see it has been a very significant part of my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without having volunteered. Although sometimes it felt like extra pressure, really it gave me so many skills and much more understanding of people and what I wanted to do with my life. Getting some experience through volunteering helps you to determine what you like and what you don’t, and where your skills lie. Wherever you are in your life, this is an invaluable process.

Charlotte Furber

Environmental volunteers, why you should think global and act locally? – Patricio’s Story

Today it is not a task for everyone doing volunteering activities, particularly if you are volunteering in the environmental sector. This assumption is because the world is facing the most pressing challenges that society has ever seen. In this regard, nine planet boundaries defined by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, range from stratospheric ozone depletion to climate change. The international political sphere has addressed the latter during the last twenty-three years. However, does climate change need to be addressed by communities from a local perspective? The answer is yes. Climate change must be tackled not only in a political sphere but also in local and community actions.

“Think Global Act Local”

Urban communities are the primary recipients of the effects of climate change. This affects planning of cities and, for example, more than 60% of the world’s population lives in the cities’ coastal areas that are hardest hit by this phenomenon. For a long time has been heard the quote “think global act local” but it has been regarded as a slogan rather than a way to act. It is powerful in itself because it encourages people to act and take responsibility in their communities. In this sense, what does “global” means? It means taking into consideration the global challenges, but thinking solutions and implementing them in a local way. Local actions increase the possibilities of a green impact because they are reaching people who face environmental issues.  Therefore, urban communities can be benefited from concrete measures directed to solve global problems.

The experience of volunteering on environmental issues

Now, I am turning the voice to myself. I have been volunteering since I was fourteen years old when I started research projects on natural restoration in my local community in Argentina. A passion for taking care of the environment was developing inside me, and along the years I continued working on those issues. To me, the notion of “Think global and act local” was taking into account challenges such as climate change, but also the needs of my community and then checking what was happening in the world to find solutions to those problems. After many years of volunteering with different non-governmental organisations, I decided to create my initiative to promote education for sustainable development at schools. With a small group of entrepreneurs, we created communication materials and the materials to develop different workshops at primary and high educational institutions. In this case, the local communities were benefited not because of the educational programmes delivered at schools but also because of the impact that young people made after being empowered with knowledge. In a nutshell, volunteering opened my mind to new ways of seeing the world, to new perspectives of witness what is happening around me. Mostly, volunteering opened my eyes to acknowledge that problems are global, but we must address them locally.

Patricio Roulier Pazos

Helping you learn more about yourself – Jo’s Story

I grew up in Yate; a small, quiet, parish town in Bristol. My volunteering history began in secondary school, back when I was a wallflower who loved to read. For two consecutive terms in 2012, I was a library assistant and spent my Wednesday lunchtimes processing book returns, updating folders and helping Mrs Wren organise library materials.

In November 2013, one of the most devastating cyclones ever recorded hit the Philippines. My family are from the north of the country (an area the typhoon spared), but seeing the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan on the news brought a sense of agony nonetheless. The Philippines received humanitarian response from numerous nations, including the UK. In hopes of boosting morale to the small but tightknit Filipino community in Yate, I organised a series of bake sale at my brother’s primary school, to contribute to the relief efforts.

Throughout 2014, I was a marshal volunteer at all of the 5K fun runs my mum participated in. The events were for Cancer Research, and looking back, it brought a remarkable sense of achievement to play a small part in putting the events together; especially cheering the last group of participants over the finish line.

In April 2015, I visited my mum’s hometown. The most memorable part of our trip was when I joined my mum and aunt (both of whom are nurses) to volunteer in a medical mission on a remote village. The medical mission lasted for one day but it was overwhelming to say the least; the weather was scorching, I hardly spoke the dialect and the presence of persistent bugs made it difficult to focus.  Nevertheless, I remained committed to my role which was to provide administrative assistance to the community health workers. It was a socially enlightening experience; not only did I learn about health care disparities between countries, it also fortified my profound respect and appreciation for healthcare professionals (like mama and auntie).

Upon moving to London towards the end of 2016, I discovered a wide variety of volunteering opportunities. My most recent stint took place last month in Enfield, where I volunteered as a race marshal for London Youth Rowing at a championship event.

As you can see, I have a sporadic volunteering experience in that it is mainly short term and event-based. In spite of the lack of consistency, I most assuredly can attest to this; volunteering can help you learn more about yourself.  Want to give back to your community and gain a new perspective without disrupting your existing commitments? I recommend volunteering at a local event.

Case in point: I’ve wanted to be a part of MSF (also known as Doctors Without Borders) since I returned from the medical mission I took part in. I hope to see this come to fruition soon as I apply for volunteering and internship vacancies at the MSF London office.

Jo Banasen

Big Night Walk, Big Benefits – Natalie’s Story

You know when you see or hear about someone suffering and you really wish you could help, well actually you can! From helping the elderly with internet skills to improving public spaces, with a little bit of research you’ll find the right volunteering position for you.

My heart-pulling moments were seeing people struggling on the streets, a fate no one deserves and one I couldn’t imagine. So I unhesitatingly signed up to volunteer at the Big Issues Big Night Walk. This is an annual event where hundreds of people walk 13 miles in London to raise money to change the lives of street vendors trying to escape homelessness.

At the event I helped set up the starting point and checked people in when they arrived. It was busy with everyone keen to start their challenging walk; this meant I needed to be efficient and assertive to ensure everyone was checked in and all the correct details were shared.  I will just point out the added bonus here; these skills are excellent to develop for your regular job too!

All the volunteers I met at the event came from a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles, so it was interesting to meet them to hear their stories and views as well. This kind of introduction to different life events and values helps you to softly develop an empathetic and considerate attitude that you might not have had before. This can only be a good thing in today’s multicultural and exciting society. I am looking forward to a coffee next week with my new friend Louise who I met at the Big Night Walk.

Overall, the volunteering experience was actually a lot of fun and not a chore at all. The rewarding ‘pat on your back’ feeling was incentive enough so it was pleasing to find so many other benefits to volunteering! So get yourself on the internet searching for volunteering opportunities near you to find out for yourself.

Natalie Barnes