As this week is Volunteers Week I wanted to write about my reasons for doing voluntary work.
I have a life long disability which means I'm not able to work. At first when I left uni I hoped that I would be able to do some part time work and started looking for a job. But what I kept hearing was "you've got the qualifications but not experience" - the problems my disability causes had meant I hadn't been able to manage studying for my degree and working.
So I started doing some voluntary work to get me that necessary experience. I didn't enjoy my first voluntary job and didn't do that for long. But then I started volunteering for my local Citizens Advice and found something I enjoyed. I later began doing other volutary work on an occasional basis.
11 years later I still volunteer. I don't work - I've never had a "proper job" like society seems to think I should have and at the moment I'm content to just volunteer. I'm in the support group for Employment and Support Allowance (this is awarded to the most disabled people who aren't expected to do any activities to prepare for work). This isn't going to change.
With all the talk around scroungers in the press and people trying it on, not being able to work can do a number on self esteem. I find volunteering prevents that (most of the time at least). Some people think that's ridiculous but it works for me. Here are five reasons why I volunteer:
1) It gets me out the house meeting people and gives me a regular place to be a couple of times a week (my Citizens Advice role) and the chance to fit varied extras in as and when I can with the other things I do - some of which I can do from home. I find that structure to my week very useful.
2) I meet a lot of new people through my volunteering who are often interesting to talk to and occasionally teach me things. Some of my fellow volunteers have become good friends and in one case my go to person when I need to talk. Often these are people I wouldn't have met or wouldn't have expected to become friends with if not for our volunteering together.
3) Sometimes (sadly not always) I come away feeling like I've really achieved something or made a difference and that's a nice feeling.
4) I've learnt new skills and done things I wouldn't have considered before. Those skills might transfer to other areas of my life. For example I feel my writing has improved thanks to some of the community journalism I've been doing which makes me a better blogger.
5) It often surprises me and keeps me on my (metaphorical) toes.
Obviously these aren't the only good things about volunteering and it's not all good but as someone who both volunteers and has greatly benefitted from the support of people who volunteer in other roles (for one thing I wouldn't be able to sail if not for the large team of volunteers who run my local sailability) it's something I'd highly recommend everyone consider.