Volunteering: The Wellness Benefits + Tips for Starting Out
1-7 June this year marked ‘Volunteer’s Week’ – an opportunity to celebrate the people who voluntarily give their time to help others and want to do good in the world. The global pandemic has created an impetus to support our local communities and we have witnessed wonderful stories of humanity coming together during the lockdown period. How can we continue to build on these acts of kindness, and why is volunteering important for our mental wealth?
Is volunteering on the rise?
During 2017/2018 20.1 million people volunteered at least once in the UK, through a group, club or organisation, contributing £22.6bn to UK charities. During the coronavirus pandemic we have seen how volunteers have helped communities deal with the consequences of coronavirus. The feel-good stories displayed by the kindness of humans, have regularly been a feature at the end of local TV news. The opportunity to instil and inspire hope and optimism against the dark shadow of illness, death and increasing political unrest.
The highest rates of volunteering is usually seen amongst the 65-74 year old demographic, with 29% of this population volunteering regularly. Often this is due to retirement and time available, plus the need for increased social connections. As older people have appeared to be more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill with the coronavirus, many of the regular volunteers for organisations and charities have been forced out of action during the pandemic, due to limitations on social contact and time outdoors.
In the past few days we have heard in the media how even Prince William has been secretly working as a volunteer, supporting people contacting Shout the crisis helpline for mental health support. He is one of the 2,000 trained volunteers, sharing his secret on a thank you video call to other volunteers during Volunteer’s Week. Statistically people aged 25-34 have been the lowest age group to volunteer for a number of years, often attributed to lifestyle and commitments; whether these are professional, travel, post-graduate studies or starting a family. With an increased opportunity to spend time in our communities, enforced working from home and individuals questioning a deeper meaning and purpose to their lives, I wonder if we will start to see an increase in these numbers?
Why are acts of kindness like volunteering good for our mental wellbeing?
Giving is one of the evidenced five ways of wellbeing and there has been a growing body of research into the effects of demonstrating acts of kindness on our subjective wellbeing, with the increased feelings of happiness enabling our internal reward system. Many of the scientific studies into the effects of giving have been correlational, for example, demonstrating those of who us who spend more money on others are happier, and those people who volunteer to help others are healthier.
I love the idea of giving as a pillar of wellbeing. That this could come in so many different forms; be it a small act of kindness, a donation, fundraising for a charity or giving your own time through a formal voluntary placement. Reflect on the last 12 weeks during lockdown, how many small acts of kindness did you carry out? These could have been saying thank you to the local supermarket employee, asking neighbours if they need help with their food shop, supporting local businesses, texting a friend who you think may be struggling or donating to a foodbank collection. How did you feel inside when you carried out those small acts? The Mental Health Foundation has created a list of random acts of kindness to inspire you to keep the momentum going. With the current global protests for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the Random Acts of Kindness organisation is clear that kindness is not a fluffy concept that is about Instagram captions. It is important we are aware that when kindness is practiced people’s lives are changed and communities get better. Now is the time we all need to be doing the work to become kinder, to give and to not put ourselves first and foremost.
How do I go about becoming a volunteer?
If you would like to formally volunteer here are few tips to get you started
Give it some thought
Think about your interests/hobbies, personal values, lived experiences or even try something new. Also consider what time you can give – no point in signing up if you do not have the capacity. Finally, do you have any particular skills or professional expertise you could offer an organisation?
Start your research
– Head over to https://www.ncvo.org.uk/ which has a ton of resources and links.
– Search the Do-it.org volunteering database
– Search for work on CharityJob
– Visit the Volunteering Matters website
– Join the Reach Volunteering community here
What are some organisations I could look into?
As a small business owner and an individual in my own right, I have a number of different ways that I voluntarily give my time and expertise to different organisations. I do hope these three very different examples will inspire you to find your own way of giving back to your community, no matter how small it all matters.
I have been a patron for the UK anxiety charity No Panic for a number of years. This was down to my own experience of being diagnosed with two anxiety disorders and wanting to volunteer my time for a cause I had a personal lived experience of navigating. I have helped to increase awareness of the charity, created workshops, written blog posts and supported their head office with my business skills.
During lockdown I became aware of Indigo Volunteers, a charity that recruits volunteers and connects them with humanitarian projects in Europe. I have had the opportunity to provide free webinars to Indigo employees across Europe, on a range of wellbeing topics during the pandemic. I have also donated my time to coach individuals who may need support or who are struggling.
Back in September 2019, I launched my own Community Interest Company, Champs for Change. Our first project has been to pilot a 6-month coaching programme for women who are in thrivership from domestic violence in partnership with a Midlands charity WE:ARE. This has been a learning curve for me, as it was the first time I have had to recruit my own volunteers. I needed five coaches to work with the women and a small team of clinical supervisors to donate their time to support the coaches. We are now almost halfway through the pilot since lockdown started and seeing great results!
“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu
Ruth Cooper-Dickson is a Positive Psychology Practitioner and qualified Coach, who has studied Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology. She is the Founder and MD of the global mental wealth people consultancy, CHAMPS, partnering with progressive organisations helping them to ingrain a culture of positive mental wealth. Ruth is a passionate runner, an addicted life-long learner and a lover of all things cake!