Make the most of being a volunteer

You can gain valuable experience while donating your time to a worthwhile cause

In these grim days of economic recession, you might think that the idea of volunteering would be one whose time has come. The benefits are mutual. It's a way of making a contribution to society while also being a useful addition to the CV, particularly for younger jobseekers.

But the surprising truth is the number of volunteers has actually declined over the past few years. According to the most recent census, only 25 per cent of people reported that they volunteered formally at least once a month in 2010-11. This is the lower than at any time between 2001 and 2007-08 (when it fluctuated between 27 per cent and 29 per cent), and it has remained at this low level since 2008-09.

At a time when many people are searching for a job, and many companies value voluntary work as a sign of enthusiasm and commitment, this seems quite odd. Georgia Boon, head of volunteering for Oxfam, says that many people who volunteer are already in work, often in part-time jobs, and that the volunteering is done in addition to their other responsibilties. "When we consider taking on a volunteer, we are looking for some basic skills, such literacy and numeracy, but mainly for qualities such as enthusiasm and a sense of commitment," says Boon, who began volunteering in the 1990s. "We have 700 shops in the UK and 22,000 volunteers are working for us, many in the shops, but also many in other areas, such as stewarding at festivals and campaigning work. We are seeing a growth of volunteers in all age groups, except the 55-65 age group, who are the group who usually have family responsibilities, such as looking after children and ageing parents."

For younger people, there are a range of opportunities to get involved with the charity. Laura Venables, a 22-year-old graduate from Frome, Somerset, started working as a steward for Oxfam earlier this year, at the Download and Latitude music festivals. "I'd already done some volunteering for a short time in Kenya, Tanzania and Nepal, and I really enjoyed that and got a lot out of it," she says. "I was looking for something to get involved in here in the UK and found out that Oxfam provide stewards to quite a few festivals, doing things like wristbanding, helping people with directions, lost children and so on, and I really like the work. You get to meet a really wide range of people and you know that you're helping a really good cause, as they do some fantastic work."

Another volunteer with Oxfam is Fred Hollingsworth, a 22-year-old music technology student in Huddersfield. He got involved with working as a sound engineer at a local music festival last year and is now production co-ordinator for six sites hosting more than 40 bands, and leading a team of more than 20 sound engineers. "I've got to use my skills in sound technology and I've learnt a lot about managing a team of other people, which you don't usually get at my age, so that's been really useful. As well as helping to make a contribution to the charity, it gives you really valuable work experience, which you can add to your CV," he says.

The environmental charity Friends of the Earth (FOE) has also relied heavily on volunteers in the past. Now, perhaps in a sign of the times, it has more people interested in volunteering than it can use. Eleanor Bradstreet, public relations manager for FoE, says: "We currently have about 40 people on our files who would like to volunteer with us, which is far more than we can accommodate. We want to make the volunteering experience as valuable as possible by ensuring each volunteer is given support, direction and feedback, but space and staff resources limit the number we can take.

"Volunteering is a great way to gain valuable experience and can be extremely rewarding, and there are a number of organisations working on environmental issues, and many of these will offer volunteering opportunities too.

"FOE also has a network of local groups around the country which are run by volunteers and welcome anyone who would like to get involved."

One of the most high-profile organisations in the sector is Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), which has been sending volunteers abroad since the 1970s – often for two years at a time. One recent development has been the introduction of the International Citizen Scheme (ICS), which it runs with funding from the Department for International Development (DfID) in 28 countries, mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

"This is a development programme for 18 to 25-year-olds where we place them in countries and projects with other local volunteers, which are really helping their local communities," says Brian Rockcliffe. "Some schemes which are run abroad as volunteering projects for young people don't have a meaningful outcome, but we ensure that we put people into projects where they will really make a difference."

Alice Inch, a 23 year-old French graduate, volunteered with ICS and worked in Mali for three months (the usual length of placements), where she helped local people set up a sustainable crafts business, together with other UK volunteers. "We were working with local young people who were out of work to create a long-term business from making and selling local craft products – they don't get very many tourist in Mali, so the business needed more support to set up than in some more touristic countries," she says. "As the national language is French, I got to use my language skills, and I learnt some of the local dialect. It was a really rewarding experience and I gained a lot from it that I can use in later life."

Jack Rayner, 19, also worked on an ICS scheme. He spent three months in India where he helped local young people run civic participation workshops, which included explaining voting rights and being able to compile their own CVs.

"We went out into small villages and ran workshops for around 17,000 local youngsters, who were really interested in learning, and I was really happy to work with such a wide range of people. I'm really passionate about encouraging other young people in the UK to do it, as it really changed my life." Jack is now planning to study for A-levels with the intention of doing medicine at university. For further information on ICS, visit

Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Stephen Hawking is reportedly taking steps to trademark his name
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant - IT Channel - Graduate

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a Value-Added I...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Guru Careers: Junior Web Developer

£18 - 22k (DOE) + Benefits & Stock Options: Guru Careers: A Junior Developer /...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor