Fit volunteering into your life

Family and work commitments can make it difficult to commit to volunteering on a regular basis. But a growing trend in one-off volunteering opportunities shows that a lack of time might not be an obstacle.

From animal welfare to working with young people; from sports volunteering to working on environmental and conservation projects - there's something for everyone with volunteering.

More than 48,000 volunteers have found a volunteering opportunity via Do-it, the national database of volunteering opportunities.

Short-term volunteering

Not everyone who wants to volunteer can afford to give up their time throughout the year, but there are ways to get involved on a short-term basis.

However, there has been a trend towards "episodic" volunteering. The London 2012 Olympics was a prime example, where volunteers signed up for a short but intensive burst of volunteering. Out of 250,000 people who applied, 70,000 were selected to participate as Games Makers over a two-week period.

"It's been a strong platform to build on for the future," says Justin Davis Smith, Executive Director of Volunteering and Development at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). "We've seen many more people come forward to our local volunteer centres, of which we have 300 around the country. There's a general and increased acceptance of the importance of volunteering.

"We have seen an increase in episodic volunteering over several years, with people seeking volunteering opportunities with a timeline and end in sight."

He points out that there are plenty of other opportunities to get involved in volunteering at big sporting events, including the London Marathon.

"Episodic volunteering has grown because people's time is so precious," says Justin. "Research found that people were worried they might be signed up for life and thought it would be better to say no from the outset. They preferred the idea of a one-off or several different one-off volunteering opportunities."

What can I get involved in?


Crisis at Christmas is a high-profile example of volunteering in a short, productive burst. Crisis at Christmas centres are safe and warm places where homeless people can spend the festive period. The guests can enjoy hot food, a shower, a haircut, clean clothing and clothing repair, as well as services such as healthcare, a dentist, and physiotherapy. Over Christmas 2014, 10,000 volunteers gave up their time in London, Newcastle and Edinburgh. 

Friends of the Elderly also needs volunteers to help out with its day centres, befriending services and activities in care homes, and to get involved in its Be a Friend campaign.

However, not all volunteering opportunities lend themselves to episodic volunteering. For example, if you decide to become a mentor, it's important to spend time building up a relationship with the person you're mentoring. "It wouldn't work for them to have to meet a different mentor every week," says Justin.

"But as a concept, seasonal or episodic volunteering has come of age, and charities are now much more creative in the way they utilise volunteers and offer volunteering opportunities."

Why not Join In?

One way to make volunteering time-efficient is to combine it with another activity, such as keeping fit.

As part of the Olympic and Paralympic legacy, the government set up the Join In Trust. Join In holds events that encourage people to help out at their local sports clubs and community groups around the UK. Volunteering has proven benefits both physically and mentally for the volunteers, as well as the people they help, and Join In aims to recruit 100,000 volunteers to get involved with sports organisations.

Find out how you can volunteer to help out at sporting events by becoming a Sport Maker.

Other new post-London 2012 initiatives include the start-up GoodGym, where members aim to get fit by "doing physical tasks that benefit our communities". In one example, runners are linked with isolated elderly people, who they regularly drop in to see while running.

Volunteering while unemployed

Justin says: "People who are unemployed have turned to volunteering as a way back into the marketplace, so we've made efforts to provide good support and training opportunities to improve their volunteering experiences.

"It's also the spirit of the age, people are less trustful of big business getting things done, and they're wanting to do more themselves along with friends and colleagues."

Keeping busy while unemployed is crucial for your mental and physical wellbeing. Find out what the five steps for mental wellbeing are.

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices

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