My volunteering first steps were taken when I was 8 years old. I was a member of my local Brownie Guide unit, and knew even then that I wanted to grow up to be like my leaders. I started in Girlguiding as a beneficiary and, as so many volunteers with the charity would agree, that never really stopped.
The charity has given me so much, especially as a child and young teenager that at 17 I jumped at the chance to give back and be a unit helper for our youngest section, Rainbows. From there are started my training to become an adult leader for Brownies, which has unfortunately been put on hold for the time being. Girlguiding UK (and indeed, the entire world guiding organisation WAGGGS) offers girls and women the opportunity to express themselves and be the best they can be; regardless of age, appearance, background or beliefs. For me personally, the organisation is more than just teaching girls to build a fire or make pom poms out of some cardboard and wool – it teaches girls to work together and support each other, while thinking about the world around them and their own beliefs.
My role in the organisation is only small, considering there are 10 million members worldwide, but I truly love being a Guider. In fact, being in guiding created the belief in the power of volunteering that led me to my other voluntary role; I also work in a charity shop for Cats Protection. This started about 18 months ago. I was very unsuccessfully looking for summer work before heading back for my final year at university, so decided to volunteer at a charity shop to pass the time. I went into Cats Protection on a whim, actually – a few others had told me to come back later, and I was stuck with no money or anything to do while I waited. It was by pure chance that I went in, despite having had a cat from the charity myself, and they were desperate for people. Although I had to leave during term time, now that I have graduated and moved back home I’m back in the shop. Juggling it with full time work is quite difficult, but I enjoy it.
Working in the charity shop is quite a far stretch from working with the girls, but both have given me massive confidence boosts and links to communities that my friends who don’t volunteer don’t have; I felt as though I lived in my university town, not just studied there. It became a home, not just because the people I loved the most were there, but because I was a part of the wider community in what I was doing with Girlguiding. My charity shop work is in my hometown, but this is where I often feel more isolated – I live in a village outside the town, work in a city 45 minutes away (more like an hour and a half in rush hour!) and don’t have many friends in the area any more. Being able to volunteer in the charity shop for a few hours a week brings me closer to my actual town, and again makes me feel like part of the community. I love my voluntary work, and I truly believe that these are only the first steps on my volunteering journey. Who knows what I’ll do next!