One of the hidden benefits of the past 12 months has been a resurgence in volunteering. The vaccine-rollout could not have happened without ordinary people doing extraordinary acts for others. The survival of so many has been ensured by selfless acts carried out without financial reward.
Volunteering is tied to a broader idea of community. It’s about having a give-back attitude, driven by strong social values and a generosity of spirit.
A rich history of volunteering the UK
The Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) says that when you choose to become a volunteer, you’re offering someone your time, talents and life experience. But you’re also getting a lot in return: confidence, skills, friendship, as well as the satisfaction of helping others.
The RVS has a long and distinguished history. It was originally founded in 1938 as the Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions. Today it is the largest volunteering organisation in Britain but it is far from alone in promoting this vision of a mutually-beneficial and generous community spirit.
The indomitable and inspirational First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) provides volunteers, trained to support Civil and Military authorities within the United Kingdom during major emergencies. Founded in 1907, they have continually deployed multi-faceted all-female rapid response teams in times of crisis.
During the Second World War, their gallantry was commended, winning three George Crosses; two George Medals; a King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom; a King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct; two Commendations for Good Service; and 36 Mentions in Despatches. Also: one CBE; six OBEs; 23 MBEs; and 10 BEMs.
Kindness helps the world
The power of volunteering is about being a citizen of a society, where putting “something” into the communal pot contributes to a kinder world for all.
It breaks downs barriers whilst helping both those who give and those who receive. It’s also completely inclusive: everyone can take part and do their bit, no matter how much. The world spins a little easier on its axis if everyone does a little bit for the common good.
“Doing your bit” is achievable, scalable and, most importantly, enjoyable. As Audrey Hepburn said, “as you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands — one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
In our work-from-home, ever more digital world, volunteering has become even more important as it offers a rare opportunity to connect with real life in a personal and meaningful way. This was recognised by Muhammad Ali who promoted the idea that “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”
Today the news is full of tales of mental anguish and rightly so. Lock-down, lock-in and lock-out set the tone for our current lives. These emotions are often tied to a lack of control, being overwhelmed and having questions of self-worth. Volunteering is a time-honoured way of alleviating and moderating this regressive cycle.
Sherry Anderson once observed that “volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless”.