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Why Everyone Should Consider Volunteering

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There’s a good chance that a volunteer has helped you or someone you know. Millions of us are on the receiving end of the work of volunteers. Perhaps you were treated by St John Ambulance volunteer first-aiders during a music festival, rescued from the seas by the dedicated souls of the RNLI, or received items thanks to fundraisers around the country.-

But what motivates the volunteers themselves? What makes them dedicate their time and energy to such endeavours, and what rewards await those who heed the call to serve? 

For many, including myself, the journey into volunteering is intertwined with personal stories of determination and resilience. Having been born with cerebral palsy and hearing from my parents that doctors at the time believed that I wouldn’t be able to get a ‘normal’ job, go to a ‘normal’ school or indeed have a ‘normal’ life, I think there was an innate desire deep inside me, from a very early age, to buck the trend that life had seemingly already set for me. I was determined to fight to exceed the limited expectations others had set for me. I did not anticipate that I would embark on a path of service that would shape not only my own destiny but also the lives of countless others.

My first steps as a volunteer

My volunteering journey began while I was at secondary school. I struggled to maintain a friendship group with those able to run off to play football or chase each other. I discovered that the school library provided a safe haven for me in which I could avoid endless fights with bullies. I would spend every break and lunch time there for the next three years, avoiding social isolation by helping other pupils find books and resources. Mostly, it was where I would keep the IT services running and often ‘fix’ the problems that some of the school’s paid staff were having. Whilst I now appreciate this was the very start of my volunteering, it wasn’t until a new Physical Education teacher entered the picture, that volunteering truly began to plot a course for the rest of my life. 

Tired of being unable to draft a meaningful report for my engagement in Physical Education, my teacher decided to teach me how to score a cricket match for our school team. Shortly after this, my drama teacher invited me to join my local cricket club as the weekend 2nd XI scorer. From then on, I spent every Saturday in the summer and every school holiday with a score book and coloured pens, feeling included and valued in a world that I had never imagined possible.

How did this volunteering evolve?

Fast forward thirty years, and I am still scoring cricket matches on a Saturday but have also just celebrated twenty years of service, including six years as Chair, with the Southern Premier Cricket League, one of the over thirty England and Wales Cricket Board Premier Leagues in the country. 

Cricket scoring truly expanded my volunteering ‘career’.  Nineteen years ago, I became a ‘listening’ volunteer at my local Samaritans branch, where I still take calls today, and it provided my first experience of being a trustee and, later, chair of the board. I have gained ‘professional’ training and listening skills, which have without question made me a better leader in the workplace. 

There is always another volunteering opportunity to consider

Having expressed my regret that I was never going to realise my childhood dream of becoming a police officer, a friend from cricket suggested I apply to join the bench as a Magistrate, a voluntary role that I have been fulfilling since 2010. 

Whether it is that ongoing desire to push the boundaries of expectation, or because I have developed an inability to say ‘no’, I am not sure, but during my time as a magistrate, I have also spent three years as Chairman of the local bench and as Secretary of my local branch of the Magistrates Association. 

I became involved with the University of Winchester cricket team almost twenty years ago through running a local indoor cricket league. It involved scoring duties, fixture management and being a friend to many lost freshmen as they navigated the new chapter of their lives in further education. I also served for eight years on the Trustee Board of the Student Union. At the end of this service, with my ‘Honorary lifetime membership’ under my arm, I went looking for another charity to support so that I could keep my Board skills fresh, alongside my work as a school governor for a special needs school. I was immensely proud when invited to join the Board of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance as a Trustee and non-executive director. 

From cricket to a lifesaving organisation is quite a journey; volunteering has not only shaped my ambitions and accomplishments, but it has also forged my character and identity.

Benefits for the volunteer

We often volunteer not for any direct benefit to ourselves but to be of service to others. As a magistrate, I serve the crown; as a Samaritan, I serve my community; and as programme quality director at Toastmasters International, I serve our 4,000 members in Southern Britain to help them become better public speakers and more effective leaders. When we are honest with ourselves, the benefits we gain from volunteering are extensive.

We gain confidence and learn skills that we don’t need to apply in earnest as we would in a job, which makes it a safer space in which to improve. Other than the motivation to want to do well for others, trying a new skill or taking on a senior position is separate from the occupational risk that exists when linked to our salary or pension. The sheer variety of things we can do as volunteers is unlikely to be matched by any career, even if it were one where we have taken many lateral moves to broaden our horizons. 

When we lead volunteers, there might be a carrot, but there is certainly no stick, so motivating and leading teams of volunteers requires a distinct and special leadership style. In my volunteer life, I have developed the communication skills to stand behind a podium and speak, to stand on a stage and deliver keynote speeches, to manage board discussions and even sit behind a microphone at my local community radio station. 

Of course, this volunteering does not happen in isolation. The friends and different networks you end up engaging with stretch far and wide. For someone who once didn’t have any friends, I can stand back now and thank volunteering for the wonderful and rich friendships that help me get through my life and I know will be there for me as each new challenge emerges. 

The numerous people who have told me that my story has motivated them to start volunteering have touched me. I am always thrilled and filled with excitement when asked to give my talk on the power of volunteering. By recruiting just one person to do something, however small, such as helping children with some reading at school, picking up the litter in your street, or baking one cake for the school PTA, you make a difference for others, and yes, of course, for yourself too.

Steve Vear MBE JP is a member of Toastmasters International, a global non-profit that has offered communication and leadership skills since 1924.

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