Volunteers play an essential role in UK society.
An estimated 22 million people volunteer each year and they contribute around £23 billion to our economy.
There are a range of reasons why people carry out voluntary work. It can provide the opportunity to give something back to an organisation that has had an impact on their life. It can make a difference in the local community, help to fight poverty and change the lives of people in the developing world, or help to protect the environment.
Volunteering can also be good for the volunteers. It can help to improve their health and wellbeing. And it can be a route into paid work or the chance to try something new and prepare for a career change. Volunteers can gain confidence and acquire new skills, knowledge and experience, enhancing their career development and job prospects.
How do I find out about volunteering in the UK?
Volunteering England has a country-wide network of Volunteer Centres. These are a good place to start to look for volunteering opportunities in your local area. They provide support to potential and existing volunteers and can help to match you with a local charity or voluntary organisation looking for someone with your skills. In other nations, useful sources include:
- Volunteer Now (promotes and supports volunteering across Northern Ireland)
- Volunteer Scotland
- Volunteering Wales
A wide range of organisations offer the opportunity to volunteer abroad, ranging from charities to travel agents. For example the charity Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) offers voluntary work opportunities in more than 30 developing countries It recruits people ranging from engineers to people with IT and medical skills. For example, it recruits people with a teaching background to help children access a quality education.
Frontier was established in 1989 as a non-profit conservation and development non-governmental organisation (NGO). It offers paid overseas opportunities as well as BTEC qualifications to its volunteers and local partners. Whilee aimed primarily at young people like those taking a gap year, it is also open to older people who have been made redundant and are considering a life change.
It is worth taking time to check out that a particular organisation offering volunteering opportunities is reputable as some charge thousands of pounds a week for the experience.
Some well-established charities providing voluntary work abroad warn would-be volunteers to be wary of opportunities to volunteer overseas “for free” and so-called “voluntourism”. They say that some of these opportunities may be little more than holidays with a feel-good factor, or worse, they could be money-making scams. Talking to people who have taken on volunteering roles is a good way to research potential opportunities.
A Volunteering Charter
Whether volunteering in the UK or abroad, the principles set out in the Charter for Strengthening Relations Between Paid Staff and Volunteers developed jointly by the TUC and Volunteering England are a good guide to best practice. The Charter includes the following points:
- People should volunteer by choice. They should have the right to volunteer or not volunteer.
- Although volunteers should not normally be paid; they should receive reasonable out-of-pocket expenses.
- Volunteering should complement and supplement the work of paid workers. Volunteers should not displace paid staff, undercut pay and conditions, or be used to reduce contract costs.
- Volunteers should receive appropriate support, training and development.
- Volunteers should help to develop volunteering policies and procedures.
- Volunteers should carry out their duties in a safe and healthy environment and not be harassed, intimidated, bullied, discriminated against or threatened with violence.
- Volunteers should have access to procedures to resolve problems.
- Volunteers should not undertake the work of paid staff during industrial disputes.
- In addition, volunteering is a good way of developing transferable skills and it is important to document your skills and experiences.