Lending a hand: get involved with volunteering

2012 was a great year for promoting the work of volunteers. The team of Olympic Games Makers at London 2012 received universal praise across the board. From visitors to competitors, VIPs to those of us watching from the comfort of our armchairs – we all admired the enthusiasm, commitment and joy with which they took on their roles.

(image from Volunteer Now)

BHP was represented in the team of Games Makers by Alison (who has sadly now left BHP) and she was completely blown away by her experience. I too have been quietly volunteering away in my own way at my local primary school.

I first became involved as a member of the school’s PTA. Seeing the pleasure the children got from the various parties and fund-raising events that the PTA ran got me hooked and before I knew it I had joined the school’s governing body too.

Other than my time as a student, I have no background in education. So it came a bit of a surprise to me to find my experience at work had provided me with a range of skills and knowledge that gave me a unique set of skills that are of use to the school.

For example, my day-to-day work means that I have a good working knowledge of employment law. When the Equality Act came into force, I was able to completely re-write and combine the school’s separate policies into a single equality policy – meaning we could spend less time approving policies and more time focussing on strategic planning and monitoring children’s progress.

And in return, I have acquired skills and gained experience in areas that have undoubtedly helped me develop as a person.

Ask anyone who knows me and they would probably tell you that I am confident and out-going. But the reality is I hate talking in public, I don’t like confrontation so tend not to express my opinion if it differs from the prevailing opinion, and I feel awkward and embarrassed talking to people I don’t know.

My work as a governor has made me face these fears and has put me in situations where I have had to meet and work with lots of new people. I’ve had to plan and lead meetings and often find myself having to ask difficult and challenging questions. To say it has pushed me out of my comfort zone would be an understatement. But you know what? I love it. Volunteering has also enabled me to take part in training on safer recruitment, budgeting and how to successfully chair meetings. All highly useful skills in a smaller business gained at no cost to my employer.

I can understand why people don’t come forward. It can be difficult to see how your skills can be useful and transferable. Many worry that they don’t have enough time to spare.  And, I suspect there are many employers who are reluctant to agree to time off for volunteering in these difficult times.

I would argue that sometimes the greatest gift you can give to a charity or local organisation is time. There are loads of community organisations that are desperate for volunteers. From my point of view, if you can spare a couple of hours everyone wins: the charity or organisation has an extra pair of hands that might just make life a little easier for someone in desperate need; you will develop a greater sense of your own worth, feel more fulfilled and learn skills, and the employer benefits too from your new experiences and renewed enthusiasm.

If you’re interested, visit the GOV.UK website to find advice on volunteering and range of links to organisations that can help you find an organisation looking for volunteers.

Fiona Prior is Senior Project Manager at BHP Information Solutions.

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