An army of volunteers: Britons embrace the community spirit

<i>The IoS</i> celebrates the legions of young and old across the nation who lend a hand to others. Paul Bignell and Michael Turner report
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From an army of 4,000 knitters to cake bakers and landscape-gardening prisoners: a legion of volunteers, young and old, are giving up their time to improve the lives of thousands of people this weekend in the UK's largest single day of volunteering.

Events are taking place across the country for the charity Community Service Volunteers' (CSV) Make a Difference Day. Activities will include everything from guerrilla baking projects in Ayrshire – whereby treats are handed out to anyone who wants one – to knitters stitching together teddies.

Volunteering in Britain has dramatically increased in recent years. According to the volunteering website, the number of applications to volunteer in 2008 was 60,621 – more than double the previous year's total of 26,158. The Government recently estimated that volunteering is now worth the equivalent of more than £40bn per year in the UK, accounting for 1.9 billion volunteer hours.

Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, executive director of CSV, said: "Volunteering has gone up consistently because people are interested in one-off opportunities; they're not sure if they can commit to, say, every Tuesday evening, so our numbers for part-time volunteers is rising and have gone up 65 per cent in the last 12 months.

"Clearly for young people the lack of work is very serious and they can't get jobs," she added. "By volunteering they can keep close to the labour market by working in schools... or in hospitals where their help is needed, and that can often lead to a job."

1. Ansuya Lakhani, 65, Essex

Charity shop volunteer

"I don't work any more, so this is a good way to make friends. If people have any problems they come and talk to me. Elderly people like having someone to talk to, so they come to me."

2. Adrian Mahoney, 40, Bo'ness, Scotland

Runs an open day at historic Kinneil House

"The house is only open to the public a few days a year – but if it wasn't for the volunteers, it wouldn't open at all. Literally thousands of people come through the doors. Our volunteers bring the house to life by talking about its history. They really make a difference and provide fun for children that come along. They're crucial to making the whole thing happen."

3. Diane Leeming, 33, London

Volunteers as painter and gardener with CSV

"I volunteer through CSV Go London. They have a calendar of events and I see which ones I can fit in with. It will be my first time with a refugee camp this weekend. I've taken other friends along on quite a few occasions. It's a really different thing to do on the weekend and it gives you a sense of fulfilment."

4. Lucy Smith, 22, Essex

Animal sanctuary volunteer

"I volunteer at Danaher Animal Home. We take in dogs, cats, small animals. My mum got me into it. It's so rewarding working with the dogs, just giving them attention and taking them for walks."

5. Lewis Hatful, 23, Leicester

Student volunteer

"We're going down to Leicester football club and making the stand more welcoming to families – we're going to paint murals of the mascot and get volunteers to help with painting or colouring in. Instead of just studying and going out and drinking, it's nice to actually give something to the community."

6. Pat Kelly, 60, Belfast

Performs alternative treatments

"I do reiki, Indian head massage, work with crystals and colours. I started at the height of the Troubles. I saw the hurt and the pain of the people and I thought that I could do something to help. On the first day I went volunteering there was shooting and my husband said 'you won't be back', so I just didn't tell him any more."

7. Matt Keston, 24, London

CSV volunteer

"I helped to co-ordinate Make a Difference Day. I really like CSV because it's about volunteering in any way shape or form. I just wanted to be in a job where I could help other people."

8. Walter Carswell, 71, County Down, Northern Ireland

Volunteers for the RNID

"Last year I decided to learn sign language and I got in touch with RNID and then from that into the volunteering role. I find, since retiring, you lose all the social time with the people you used to work with, and this gets you out and about, mixing with lots of other people."

9. Kristy-Leigh Franklin, 22, Essex

Volunteers at a swimming pool with elderly and disabled people

"Some of the disabled people need some help with swimming; others just need help getting in and out. The hardest thing I found was to let go of the question 'Am I doing OK?' because they don't care – they just enjoy having someone with them."

10. Kirsty Abbott, 23, Edinburgh

Teaches schoolchildren to be eco-aware

"I ask schools if they are after any hands-on help for eco-projects. My background is in gardening, so a lot of what I do is help out with getting containers ready for plants, or doing weeding, general things in the gardens. The schools find it very useful."

11. Mary Chapman, 55, York

Runs animal rescue shelter

"Ninety-nine per cent of what's here is rescued. We've got horses and ponies, cats, a pig, hedgehogs. If anything needs a home, we just take as much as we can take. We've had animals thrown over the fence, left in cardboard boxes and just left on the side of the road in carrier bags to die."

12. Adam Blackwood, 17, Cwmbran, South Wales

Started out volunteering with animals and public activities

"I had quite a rough childhood, bullied at school by the other pupils. Later, my older brother Mike was killed in a motorcycle accident. This really knocked my confidence, but volunteering has helped to restore it."

13. Katie Brooks, 18, Birmingham

Volunteer leader with CSV

"I lead a team of young people to help with painting, cleaning, decorating and polishing my church in Birmingham. I co-ordinate the young people but also get involved and do it myself. I think the one thing which really excites is that it's my home city,so I can give something back."

14. Gursharan Purewal, 22, West Midlands

Organises one-day eco-events

"I'm a bit of an eco-warrior. I've always had a strong interest in volunteering because of my religion, which is Sikhism, and it gives you self- esteem and confidence."

15. Scott Halliday, 43, Liverpool

Community volunteer

"Our community group puts different events on to try to bring the community back together. We've made hampers and Christmas wreaths for the pensioners. We had European Neighbours Day where a thousand people turned up and we had food from around Europe."

16. Francisco Labbe, 35, London

One-on-one child mentor with Chance UK

"Chance UK trains volunteers specifically to look after kids who are on the brink of exclusion or who are without a father figure. Most of these kids would potentially just be hanging around on street corners. The children are from five to about 10."

17. Monica Rose, 71, London

Volunteer knitter

"Volunteering makes you feel young again and it makes you feel wanted. Once you retire you're supposed to sit there and do the shopping then go home again and watch the television. Well, I'm afraid I'm not like that. I travel all over the South-east trying to get wool for our knitters."

18. Laurence Ola, 33, Leeds

Provides information on HIV/Aids to ethnic minorities

"I decided to volunteer because HIV, I know, is real but the youth of today, especially among the minorities, take things for granted. Some of them have not seen people with the disease and feel that it is not real, so they engage in risky sexual acts."

19. Oygun Turner, 52, Essex

Provides makeovers for cancer patients

"We help women with cancer to get more positive and to help them to deal with it. Forty leading beauty industry companies donate products. We go to cancer treatment centres or hospitals. For example, we teach people who have lost their eyebrows through chemotherapy – we show them how to use make-up to help them."

20. Roger Jilal, 26, London

Youth volunteer co-ordinator

"I work as a volunteer co-ordinator so I try to engage young people to come and do something positive and feel part of something. In this area we've got a lot of gangs, and we've got a lot of young boys not going to school, not going to college, basically wasting their lives."