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Use your brain (or brawn), meet people, make the world a bit better. VOLUNTEER.

There’s one sure-fire way to do all that and more, and that’s by giving away your time – even just a tiny smidge of it – for free.

Go on… put your hand up and volunteer!

For as long as I can remember I’ve been giving my time – in varying quantities – for free. Here’s an overview, and perhaps some inspiration (plus some links to get you started at the bottom).

Best for: giving something back and getting that warm fuzzy feeling in return

Community Volunteering:

When I was 15 and desperate to get out of the house I spent a couple of hours a week at our local library helping out with the summer reading scheme for local kids. You know the one – they have to read 5 books over the summer and they get a sticker and a certificate for completing it. Don’t get me wrong – I had plenty of other things to keep me busy that summer but throwing in these couple of hours each week added a bit of variety and helped me mix with a load of different people. I loved it.

Best for: starting out in a new career, or exploring what you enjoy doing

Full-time volunteering:

I spent a year after uni volunteering with the National Trust in several big old stately homes and their surrounding estates. In return, they gave me somewhere to live and paid my travel expenses (I’d temped for about 9 months first to save up my pennies so I could do this). I look on that year as a kind of apprenticeship. I learnt such a lot of different skills, met some brilliant people who are still close friends today, and generally had an amazing time living in a converted barn with other people my age. At the end of it I got myself a job with them, and although I left that job after about 4 years some of my best interview answers when I go for jobs now (15 years on) still come from back then. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without them.

Best for: exercising your brain when you need to use it more

Online volunteering:

Stuck in a job a few years ago where I wasn’t getting pushed enough but was working long hours, I was going slightly crazy. My brain needed to be used, but I didn’t have the time to fit in anything else structured to my day. Then I found an online volunteering project with Kingston University and the British Red Cross and it just worked. All the volunteering was online. I ran through their online training, signed up, got a password and away I went. You could do as little or as much as you wanted, at whatever hours of the day suited. You could disappear for weeks or months and nobody batted an eyelid or told you you couldn’t carry on when you came back. For three years I transcribed the records of (aptly enough) the volunteers who fuelled the British Red Cross during World War One and now you can see the results for yourself online. Some of them are fascinating, and each has its own story to tell.

Best for: meeting people and getting into a routine

Regular volunteering:

Difficult to know what to call this one, but I went with ‘regular’ because it’s what I think of as volunteering in person somewhere, on a regular (weekly? monthly?) basis. It’s what I did for Samaritans for a period when I had the time in my life, and it’s what many of the volunteers I eventually managed at the National Trust did.

In short, no longer does volunteering have to mean helping out at your local charity shop or visiting people in hospital (although where would we be without those who do?). Get out there and give it a go! Try these to get started:
For community and regular volunteering: Do-ItTimeBank
For online volunteering: ZooniverseSkills for Change
For full time volunteering: Have a read of this article from The Guardian, and then search out the websites of charities you’re interested in.


Originally published on my previous website on 1/6/2017

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