It’s the time of year, when everyone in the voluntary sector comes together to celebrate the selfless work volunteers are doing to support others in their community.
In true John’s Road to Volunteering style, I’ve invited a few people over the course of National Volunteers Week to celebrate their story and to give you an insight into what volunteering means to them.
Rosie from the Southampton Hub, part of the national social action organisation Student Hubs, whom support students at UK universities to learn, connect and engage in social action is the first to be featured, and WOW is she an inspiration!!
Over to you Rosie…
There are three key parts of volunteering that are often overlooked. These are accessibility, small-scale actions and volunteering as a way of life. Accessibility is often blurred in volunteering by expensive parachute jumps, rich gap year trips to help save orphans and the idea of a painfully pretentious ‘active citizen’. It is easy to view volunteering as the plight of the middle classes to make a difference in their local community through flamboyant gestures that appear to have lost the core aims of volunteering.
However, volunteering is accessible. Unlike the arts or many other sectors that have become rather impenetrable for youths in poverty, volunteering is an access all areas pass. Charities desperately need volunteers and often have the dual aim of helping their target group whilst simultaneously encouraging volunteers to gain new skills. Groups such as the National Citizenship Service are allowing disadvantaged young people to build positive relationships with their community through social action projects. London is also a hub of youth activity, with young people in areas such as Brixton and Peckham coming together to petition against the housing crisis.
As a young person, I had always found hobby days at school rather uncomfortable as children spoke of their sporting achievements and boasted of medals earned at dance competitions. I was in awe of these children, but their lifestyle seemed unattainable to my family life at home. Volunteering became an escape.
As a teenager, I struggled with a serious illness and spent a year cooped up indoors recovering which left me feeling empty and alone. I had few passions and interests compared to my thriving friends and felt overwhelmed after a year of hibernation. Music lessons were costly, whereas volunteering at my local guides’ group was free. I was an awkward, shy teen with little experience. Yet this accessibility led to volunteering at local festivals, becoming the school charity representative and eventually leading of a charity project. At university, I became defined my charity work, rather than my school grades. This gave me a new sense of purpose.
Currently sitting on a train on my way to a job interview with a youth charity, I reflect on how volunteering has completely shaped my everyday life. Through volunteering, I have gained access to a world of influential people, social action training days and most importantly, helped my community. I walk into my local supermarket at university and recognise the schoolteacher, the social worker, the elderly community worker and the schoolchild who attends my charity project. I feel a sense of belonging, a certain trust, a closeness that I am grateful for. I am not an outsider, but an active citizen.
This somewhat contrived title of ‘active citizen’ immediately depicts an image of an overly keen, teacher’s pet that holds a cake sale in the playground and seems to adopt another artic animal every week. Yet, active citizenship can be cool. Look to spoken word artist, George the Poet from London, voicing the views of London’s youth through his punchy hip hop poetry. He effortlessly merges poetry and community work into a popular youth culture of spoken word; a difficult plight. By giving a voice to the unvoiced and working locally, small actions of kindness can have a large impact.
I believe in the effectiveness of mini actions-a retweet, a brew, a smile-which can provoke a ripple of larger implications. Volunteering has become disorientated by huge actions, where numbers of pounds raised or children saved has become the central aim of social action. This is then tweeted about in extravagant social media posts asking us all to help save a child through raising a million pounds. Inspiring, yet often distant and unachievable for the daily commuter who sees the same charity appeal every day on his journey.
Yet, if we recognise the mini actions that volunteers carry out every day, volunteering becomes less daunting and more realistic. This commuter may not donate thousands to a charity, but he stops en route to help an elderly man with his walking stick and later signs an online petition on the journey home.
My own volunteering journey has led me to both larger charity projects and mini volunteering. The project I lead takes children on fun and educational activity days out around Southampton with a group of dedicated university students. Although I have enjoyed the role of coordinator, it is the everyday tasks of the teachers, social workers and volunteers that inspire me to continue. For them, their roles have become integrated as part of their everyday life; I seek to do follow their way of life. I think the importance of volunteering lies in the mini, ritualistic activities that people take part in. These people are unrecognised and unaware of the impact they have each day.
If we can encourage social action to become part of our way of life then we can truly engage our communities. This can be simple tasks such as writing a letter to a friend in need or offering a hand to a neighbour rather than staring down at our phones ignoring what is occurring around us?
A volunteer journey is difficult to write about, both because it is an ambiguous term and due to the immeasurability of a journey. What constitutes a journey? It firstly suggests some sort of progress or success, and yet volunteering can sometimes feel exhausting due to its constant strive for improvement. With broad aims such ‘social improvement’, ‘better opportunities’, ‘increased access’, it can be difficult to ever feel fulfilled by volunteering. At times, I can picture myself now sitting over a large document of targets and numbers, feeling rather defeated by charity goals that seem infinite. Yet that is exactly what leads to a volunteering passion, the sense that there will always be a need to continue seeking for improvements.
Although you may be thinking that I am rather idealistic in my belief of small everyday actions, this is the most realistic way to achieve meaningful volunteering. A quote above my English Literature teacher’s door is ingrained in my memory; ‘you must be the change you wish to see in the world’ (Gandhi). I initially interpreted this as a suggestion that I needed to work hard in my exams to change my personal future. Now, I see this quote as an example of how everyone important in changing the world. Everyone can be liberated by the act of helping others; it is an accessible, thriving and inspirational collective that is calling out for more everyday volunteers. If we can continue to make volunteering opportunities as accessible as possible, everyday people power can triumph. What will be your mini action today?
My mini action today will be thanking Rosie. Rosie has given her time to help young people across Southampton, providing a voice for those who feel unheard, and that to me is a selfless act of kindness.
If we had more people doing small actions, the impact would be great. I hope you’ve been inspired as much as I have reading Rosie’s story, and if you’d like to find out more about the work the Southampton Hub or Students Hub do, please click the links at the start of the blog post or via their Twitter links below.
Southampton Hub (Twitter)
Students Hub (Twitter)