If I have to label myself, the term ‘eternal student’ would not be wide of the mark. I am currently on a gap-year, before I start training to become a barrister, and I indulge in a variety of volunteering activities.
Why did you decide to volunteer?
I volunteer because it opens up opportunities. It is a great way to meet different people, acquire skills and a fantastic way to build on personal and professional development. It can also make a difference when competing in a saturated job market. The fact that my contribution helps a worthy cause, a project or a person is also an immense incentive to keep volunteering.
Who do you help through volunteering?
Through my volunteering I have helped adults with learning disabilities; I have assisted in a free legal advice centre; I co-directed a drama production starring a bunch of talented primary school kids; I helped build a school in India and stuck posters on walls. Having had a positive volunteering experience in London, I am going abroad to try out volunteering in New York and Malawi.
How has volunteering helped you?
Volunteering has helped me network and build valuable relationships with different people. Some of these relationships have led to fruitful opportunities. For example I was offered a paid summer placement at a city law firm. The people I meet have been useful sources of wisdom, advice and inspiration. Volunteering has widened my horizons and has pushed me to consider experiences and activities I did not consider before.
What would you say to potential volunteers?
I would encourage potential volunteers to become actual volunteers. Volunteers should choose opportunities according to their needs and time availability; this ensures volunteering is of greater mutual benefit. I encourage everyone to volunteer to have fun and to gain a different perspective on life and work. There is something for everyone, get involved.
How did you start volunteering?
I moved to Lewisham in October 2005 and was looking for employment. I felt quite low and lacked confidence in myself. I attended an event that Volunteer Centre Lewisham was holding to inform people about volunteering. I met the staff of the Volunteer Centre and booked an appointment to meet an advisor, then I cancelled the appointment due to nerves, but when I phoned to cancel I was rebooked another appointment for the following week.
How did the Volunteer Centre help you?
The advisor suggested that I try the role of volunteer advisor and within a week I had been to the office for an interview and started my training to become a volunteer advisor. Within a few weeks I was volunteering at the outreach point in Catford Library with the advisor I had seen for my appointment.
How did volunteering help you?
I really enjoyed meeting and interviewing all the clients and each week my fears disappeared and my confidence grew. My colleague was a joy to work with and made the role very enjoyable, whilst giving me very good guidance and training. The role allowed me to focus on all my positive points and the skills and knowledge I had gained. After I had been volunteering for a while, my confidence grew and I applied for the role of Trainee Benefit Advisor at Lewisham Council. I used my experience as a volunteer advisor at the interview and was successful with my application. I can honestly say that without doing the role of volunteer advisor I would not have got my job.
What inspired you to start volunteering?
In 2006, I was placed in a hospital for five weeks after suffering from anxiety and depression. There were 18 other patients, but within that five week period only two of the patients had any visitors and most didn’t have any money to buy treats for themselves.
My own family came in and brought in treats for all the patients on the ward. It was
this experience in hospital that led me to begin visiting mental health wards in Mile End when I recovered.
What volunteering have you done since?
This year (2010), my sister Helen and I did a sponsored walk through Victoria Park to raise money for mental health patients at Mile End Hospital. We managed to raise £140 towards buying treats for patients whilst they recover in hospital.
I still visit patients in hospital and also do some volunteering at Volunteer Centre Hackney. At the moment, I’m in the process of starting up a voluntary gardening project at St. Mathias School in Poplar.
How did you start volunteering?
Before I went on the New Deal programme I had been a carer, looking after my elderly mother for over five years. When I was referred to New Deal I was offered the choice of an apprenticeship with a large company or voluntary work. I didn’t really fancy going back into a large company after such a long break, so I chose voluntary work.
How did volunteering help you?
I was really nervous about going back into the workplace but the New Deal Programme at Volunteer Centre Kensington and Chelsea gave me an enormous amount of confidence. The New Deal Team helped me take small steps in the right direction. I soon got back into IT after my long break and after a I was processing registrations and working on the Volunteer Centre’s database. It was a positive boost at a time in my life when I really needed it. The New Deal Programme helped me re-assess my IT skills, gave me the confidence to work in a team and to get involved in an office environment again. Above all, it gave me work experience to put on my CV and to talk about in interviews. I had fallen out of the habit of doing job search and applying for jobs. The New Deal Programme actively encouraged me to start job-searching again.
Would you recommend volunteering?
I have been volunteering at the Volunteer Centre since March 2006. I never thought I would have the confidence to interview members of the public and now I enjoy doing interviews and drop-ins. At the moment I am looking forward to starting on a new project at the Volunteer Centre, working with young people. There are no two ways about it, volunteering through the New Deal helped me get back into my stride and helped me feel more purposeful. I would recommend it to anyone.