I’ve always enjoyed volunteering, even as a child I was a volunteer helper with the Brownies when I was in the Girl Guides. As I’ve got older volunteering has become the one form of social contact I have with people when all else is failing. I particularly like practical tasks as there is no pressure to talk to people and if you do want to talk the focus isn’t on you, it’s on the task in hand. If you are feeling anxious and depressed that, combined with being terrible at social situations, can make you feel really isolated. Having a regular volunteer task which happens on a set day once a month is something to rely on. It won’t let you down, it will be there come rain or shine. The physical hard work of some volunteer tasks can tired you out, which is another good thing if you are depressed and finding it hard to sleep. It’s also great to have a sense that you have achieved something, particularly when your self esteem has hit the floor.
Through volunteering I have gained confidence and learnt new skills. I help run a volunteer group once a month, and at times will have no choice but to speak to people and to direct them in terms of what they need to do. This pushes me well out of my comfort zone, and at times it has left me regularly reconstructing what I feel I’ve done wrong in my head afterwards. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been helpful. The more I do something, the more confident I can become. The more I can observe what other people do, the better I can understand how to lead a situation.
It’s often hard to know where to get started when it comes to volunteering. I guess the best place is to consider what your passions are, where your skills lie and what would give you a good sense of achievement. If you want to learn new skills in something it’s worth considering that as your focus, particularly if you are out of work and looking to increase your skills. If you are giving up your time for free it’s important that you also gain some enjoyment out of a task. As my passion is the outdoors I’ve focused most my volunteering in that area, mainly working in parks and open spaces. Many parks have friends groups, if you google the name of your local park and volunteering/friends group it is likely you will find something to get involved with. Some of the groups I volunteer with are happy for you to just turn up on the day if you have the time and don’t require any sort of commitment which is good.Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust also have established volunteering schemes.
If you live by a river or a stream you might want to consider being a river fly monitor. I did my 1 days training through Bristol Avon Rivers Trust and I now monitor the health of the River Frome in Bristol once a month. The data I collect is submitted to the River Fly partnership who oversee the project for all of the UK and they can also direct you to where you can get training. The task involves taking a sample from the river following a set process and counting different species found in that sample. If the numbers drop below a certain level we would notify the environment agency, as it would be likely there had been a pollution event. I really like the counting of the sample as it focuses the mind and it feels relaxing. We quite often see kingfishers and other wildlife on the river. It’s also a responsibility I always stick to no matter how rubbish I am feeling. I often have to tell people about what we are doing, often children and again it’s a good way of pushing me out of my shell and sharing knowledge with others.
What’s also important to remember is that you might try something and not enjoy it, it doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy all volunteering, it just means that one task or role wasn’t for you. I gave up a volunteer role a few years ago, mainly because I found the social contact and 1 to 1 focus too stressful. It’s not stopped me from continuing on with other things. Without the support of volunteering I don’t think I would have got through difficult periods of mental health and it is something I will be forever grateful for.