Volunteering: how giving up your spare time can change your life

volunteer word cloud

Normally I like to write about the local area and where the best places are for walking dogs. But I’m often asked why on earth I volunteer when I could be out getting a full time job rather than a part time job. Well, a lot of the time its through volunteering that I gain the knowledge required to be able to write about these walks. Volunteering has opened my world up more than I could ever have imagined.

Rewarding

So, what is the first thing which springs to mind when you think about volunteering? Your spare time lost? Slave labour? Or perhaps just unnecessary. You’re not the only one who wonders why anyone would want to give up their free time for voluntary work. But actually it can be just as, if not more, rewarding than your usual nine-to-five job.

I began volunteering in an RSPCA charity shop in Spennymoor way back in 2011 where I gained experience in talking to customers and learning how to work as an adult. I had just started college, so I wasn’t very clued up about the real world of work.

In April 2012, I began to wonder what I wanted to do with my life.

In April 2012, I began to wonder what I wanted to do with my life. Being on an Animal Management course got me thinking about some voluntary work with animals. As part of my course I had to spend my Easter holidays in work placement.

It was a bit daunting to say the least… working for a business, not getting paid for it, but still having to work as if I were.

And that is where I began my journey through the more physical voluntary work… I started off working at Skyecroft Boarding Kennels and Cattery near Old Eldon, just as a casual work placement for college. Then came the end of my placement, they never got rid of me. Even since I finished college and went to university in Wales, I still pop in for a quick cuppa.

The pair who own this business became a part of my family – we had so many great laughs. For anyone looking to board their cat or dog, or even small mammals, this is the place for you! The atmosphere is so homely and the staff are so welcoming, the animals are always the top priority and are treated as if they were their own.

In fact, I can remember one day being sat with my colleague hand feeding a chihuahua because the poor pup was so scared she wouldn’t eat her dinner. The next day the pup ruled the entire block. I haven’t visited many kennels, but I can’t imagine they’d put this level of dedication in to every single animal each day.

Added benefit

The added benefit of volunteering is that not only do you get relevant work experience, but you gain references, and through the businesses you work for you gain contacts; contacts which might lead to paid work or more in-depth experience.

During my time at university in North Wales I did a considerable amount of volunteering with various organisations, but my main organisation was North Wales Wildlife Trust.

And with help from the trust, I and a couple students on my course set up Bangor University Conservation Society, which helped students like us get work experience in the environmental conservation field.

The work experience I got from this alone was incredible. I helped with fundraising and even a little bit of office work, which was great.

But my biggest accomplishment was being asked to attend the Lacey Lecture, where Nick Baker would be giving a talk and wanted to meet key volunteers.

Jess with Nick Baker

And this was all because I chose to spend a day a week helping the trust on task days.

I was so excited! I got to meet one of my icons, and I even got up on stage with him! You can see how excited I was by looking at the photo. I turned into a tomato, I teared up, the full works… And this was all because I chose to spend a day a week helping the trust on task days.

This opened a wide range of opportunities for me. I started working as a Nature Rockz Park Ranger for Haven soon after, where I got the opportunity to promote Visit Wales at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre in the caravan, camping and motorhomes 2017.

I then had the honour of meeting even more of my favourite icons, as well as being filmed for Blue Peter (which I hadn’t actually realised at the time).

Jess with Ben Fogle

This whole week was incredible. I got to meet Kate Humble and Ben Fogle, Barney Harwood and various other inspirational people. And all this was because I’d taken a little time out of my life to help an organisation.

VRO

These days I still continue to volunteer, in fact… I’m more than a regular volunteer now. I’m a Volunteer Reserves Officer for Durham Wildlife Trust.

Remember what I said about contacts and benefits? Durham Wildlife Trust is a great organisation to volunteer with if you want to progress. As a VRO, for my commitment to the trust of three days a week, I get a wide range of training opportunities. Ever wanted to drive a Land Rover off road? I got my training to do just that! Fancy having a go at the quad bikes? That’s right, I got my training to drive that off road too!

Of course, there’s a lot more serious stuff to the job than just driving around fields all day. Risk assessments, tool maintenance, being a first aider and making sure volunteers know what they’re doing while keeping everyone safe. But don’t worry, I’m not allowed to do this all on my own! There are two other VROs with me and we have our line manager, the Living Landscapes Officer, who makes sure we’re doing our jobs.

Off road quad bike

If this interests you, just check out their website. You can get all the information you need without even needing to talk to anyone. And that goes for all organisations, just google what you like to do and see what organisations are local to you. It’s that simple.

No obligation

The beauty of volunteering is, anyone can do it. You’re not obligated to attend every task day or every volunteer day. You can make it work around you. Fancy getting muddy helping us move some ponies? Come along. Fancy having a lie in and chilling all day instead, no worries, its fine. Even if its once a month, you’d be surprised how much of an impact volunteering has on your life.

Not only do you get out and do things you wouldn’t normally do, see places you wouldn’t normally see, but you meet people and create new friendships.

At Durham Wildlife Trust our volunteers are incredibly varied in their occupations, we have college students, university students, dentists and accountants, builders and physicians. You learn so much from this variety of backgrounds. And of course, we have our social, more chilled, curry nights where we meet up in Wetherspoons then go for a curry after a few refreshments. It’s incredible seeing such a wide range of occupations and ages coming together and creating friendships.

volunteering is more than just giving up your spare time

So, whether you’re looking to get work experience in a certain area of work or you’ve recently moved home and want to meet people, or perhaps you’re retired and want to get out and do stuff, or maybe you just fancy a change, volunteering is more than just giving up your spare time.

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