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What is volunteering?

Volunteering is any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives. Central to this definition is the fact that volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual.

This can include formal activity undertaken through public, not-for-profit and voluntary organisations as well as informal community participation and social action. Everyone has the right to volunteer and volunteering can have significant benefits for individuals.

How much time do I need to give?

This is entirely up to you – give whatever you can. And don’t be put off if you work full time – there are many opportunities that require volunteers at evenings and weekends. Most formal volunteer roles ask for a minimum commitment of 3 or 4 hours per week. But there are plenty of options for ‘one off’ event or community based volunteering.

Will it affect my benefits?

No, not at all – all benefit regulations are clear that you can volunteer. For people on Universal Benefit you can volunteer outside of your 18 hours mandatory weekly job searching hours. You need to be able to attend a job interview with 48 hours notice, community organisations will be flexible about this.

Will it cost me anything?

It should not cost you anything to volunteer. Most organisations will reimburse out of pocket expenses, like bus fares and lunches, as long as you provide a receipt.

What can I do?

Almost anything! We have hundreds of opportunities registered with us and there really is something for everyone – from listening to a child read, helping out on a gardening project, staffing a helpline, to promoting a local theatre – there are a huge variety of opportunities out there.

Do I need qualifications?

Occasionally particular skills are asked for, but community organisations are usually happy to provide you with the training relevant for the task offered.

What experience do I need?

Lots of roles will not ask for previous work experience or qualifications. Instead, they may ask about your life experience and to get to know you as a person to see if you are capable of doing the role. Some opportunities, such as web design may require you to have some previous experience and this should be stated on the role information. The most important thing is enthusiasm and reliability.

How do I contact the organisations?

Please appreciate that lots of organisations don’t have secretaries, may work part-time, and have lots of projects to run. So, please be patient in contacting them. They should eventually get back to you, but it may take a week or more. Feel free to email, but a telephone call is sometimes preferable.

How do I apply?

Usually you need to complete a simple registration form. It may ask questions about why you would like to volunteer (‘to make friends, gain some new experience’ etc.). There is no right or wrong answer for these questions. Some organisations are very large, so have to use a standard procedure for all volunteers to apply to make it fair for everyone. If you wish, you can ask if an organisation will allow you to meet them beforehand, so you get an idea whether the project is right for you. However, some organisations will not be able to do this. If you struggle to fill in a form, ask if they will help complete the form with you in the interview. Usually you need referees. These are character, not job references, which need to be completed by a friend or neighbour, but not a family member or partner. Choose someone reliable, who you know will complete it (ie, not your doctor, who may not have enough time). If you are a client who has a support worker, then they can complete a reference for you. If you are successful you may be invited for an interview. These meetings aren’t usually formal, but more of a chat to get to know you, and decide if you are right for the organisation, but equally, if it’s right for you. It’s your opportunity to ask questions.

What support will I get?

Each organisation will have someone who looks after the volunteers, someone to ask questions, raise problems etc. and you should be told who this is before or when you start. The training and induction will vary according to the organisation, the client group and the role. For example, if you are wanting to volunteer with a client group (mentoring/support etc) it may be a couple of days or a few evenings and you may have to wait some months for the next training course to start. For a community café, however, it may be on the job. It may not lead to a qualification, but should be enough for you to feel comfortable and confident carrying out the task. Everyone is in the same boat – there are no exams!

16-25? Get rewards for volunteering

We connect 16-25’s with volunteering roles and support the National Citizens Service in the summer months.

Will my expenses be reimbursed?

If expenses are paid it will usually be stated on the opportunity information sheet. This should include travel expenses (i.e. if you get the bus to your volunteering, organisations will reimburse your travel on production of a bus ticket or receipt). It may sometimes also include food if you volunteer all day. Please appreciate, however, that not every organisation pays expenses and you should check about this before you start. Payment of expenses does not affect any Benefits you may receive.

What is a DBS check?

If the role involves working with vulnerable people (disabled, elderly, young people etc.), you will need to complete a DBS (criminal record) check. The organisation you are volunteering for will arrange this for you and it does not cost you anything. It may take a few weeks to come through which means you will not be able to start volunteering immediately. Further information about checks for volunteers here.

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