Volunteers are needed like never before in the North, especially in the current era of austerity and public spending cuts.
Voluntary organisations such as cancer charities, homeless shelters and advice services have experienced greater demand for their services as a result of welfare reforms, according to research carried out by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the nation’s largest umbrella body representing volunteer groups.
The NCVO says a rise in demand for voluntary organisations’ services during the welfare reform period has been coupled with cuts to government funding for charities of £1.7bn from 2010-11 to 2012-13.
Some organisations are spending much of their time helping claimants to appeal against benefit sanctions or accompanying them to appointments, as government agencies seek to cut the welfare bill One volunteer organisation that has experienced increased demand for its services is the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) which has 20,000 highly trained volunteers and always has room for more.
They help with fundraising, IT, administration, campaigning, trusteeship, supporting witnesses and, of course, giving advice including as a telephone assessor. People come to them with a variety of problems, many involving work, benefits and homelessness.
“Volunteers who give advice to our clients are at the heart of our service and we could not manage without them,” says the CAB.
The Samaritans have a similar-sized army of helpers, about 20,000 volunteers giving up a few hours of their time every few weeks to help support people find their way through whatever is troubling them.
“I have met some amazing people at Samaritans,” said one volunteer. “They’re not people I would normally have met in my day-to-day life and they’re from really different backgrounds but I’ve made some firm friends. I think I’m more open to people than I was.”
Organisations such as these combine the resources and expertise of a large organisation with local knowledge of the volunteers themselves.
“Voluntary organisations have local knowledge, networks and trust from service users which means they are often well placed to help people navigate reforms,” says Charlotte Ravenscroft, head of policy and public services at NCVO.
Volunteering doesn’t necessarily mean you have to join a large organisation to make a difference.
Helping out at a high street charity shop, a local luncheon club for the elderly, a sports club for young people, a disability group, a women’s shelter – in fact any one of hundreds of volunteer groups – can be a rewarding and worthwhile experience.
People who are due to retire, or have time on their hands when the children have grown up and left, can find a useful new interest in life, make new friends and help others by involving themselves in volunteering.
If they aren’t sure where their own talents can be best put to use, a good point of contact is the local Council for Voluntary Services – many towns have one – where they have details of local groups and how to contact them.
Every year in the UK, Volunteers’ Week in June is a longstanding, popular event in the voluntary sector, established in 1984. It is supported and celebrated by small grassroots organisations as well as larger, household-name charities, who together run hundreds of events across the UK.
These events showcase and celebrate volunteers and the contribution volunteering makes in our communities, and more information is available on volunteersweek.org.
But why wait until June? There are plenty of voluntary organisations that could use your help right now.