Volunteers Week

Volunteering comes in all shapes and sizes, from working on the ground to doing the accounts for a local charity, and from donating a day to dedicating a lifetime. We all have different lives and skills, some with more time, others with more expertise. We believe volunteering and social action is not just about giving something back to others, it can be of great value to the volunteer too - helping us reconnect with others and building our skills, empathy and compassion. It can also be a lot of fun!

To mark Volunteers Week, we asked two staff members to tell their volunteering stories.

 Ben Brown, Communications & Office Assistant:

“While studying at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), I began The Balloons Project. It became part of the London 2012 Inspire Programme and Cultural Olympiad and is the most successful and rewarding thing I’ve ever done. 

The idea for Balloons came from reworking a poem I wrote when I was eight into a song representing the Olympic motto of Faster, Higher, Stronger. Working with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds around Merseyside, we studied motivational lyrics, created harmonies and delivered confidence-building workshops. After the success of the initial project in 2009, we then took on all of the values that underpin the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Respect, Excellence, Friendship, Equality, Inspiration, Courage and Determination) and bought them to life through colour, symbolism, characterisation, music, song, dance and rhythm. 

For over three years, I worked with a brilliant team of over 100 volunteers carrying out creative and motivational workshops. We engaged with over 1000 young people, inspired by universal values like those underpinning the Olympic and Paralympic Games and showcasing performances in Liverpool and London for the BBC and Channel 4. 

I still can’t quite believe how many people actively wanted to be involved. Graduates and professionals would contact me asking me how they could help. It was incredible. The project won many regional and national awards including the Podium Gold Award for the UK’s most successful student-led venture and the Queens Diamond Jubilee Award. In 2012, Sir Paul McCartney publicly supported Balloons and I was honoured to receive the McCartney Human Spirit Award. 

One of the main positives I have taken from my experience in running The Balloons Project is the volunteer spirit that drove the project forward, people giving up their time because they believe in something and want to make a difference.

I strongly believe in charities and social enterprises. In people working together, with a common cause to make a positive difference in the world. I think this is the way to create more equality and fairness in a society where often profit is put above all else. However, for anybody that may read this who is starting or has started an enterprise or project, my advice is to really think about the funding and what is realistic and sustainable. Manage your time and don’t burn out! I put my heart and soul into Balloons and it means the world to me;

It has spurred me on to learn more, get involved and never lose that drive to try and make the world a better place.

For anybody considering volunteering on any level, my advice would be: just do it. I believe it is good for the soul to do something outside yourself, with no financial gain. It’s also amazing what a group of people can achieve if they believe in something strong enough and it is often through volunteers and activists working towards a shared goal that real, lasting change can take place in the world."

Linda McRoberts, Governance Manager:

“I spent a week of my holidays recently cleaning and painting a large, run-down kitchen and loved it! 

I have fond memories of many Youth Hostel Accommodation (YHA) stays from travelling ‘back in the day’.  Affordable accommodation in beautiful spots with great companionship, and some life-long friendships formed as a result.  Well, that was then.  Life moves on, and I usually look for a few more creature comforts from my holidays now.  So, when a friend suggested I join her for a week of volunteering at a YHA, I was a little conflicted – ‘those lovely places’ vs. ‘disturbed sleep in dorms’, not to mention ‘working on my week off’.  I booked, but won’t pretend when packing my old clothes and various work gloves that I didn’t wonder whether I’d taken leave of my senses.   I took the train from London to Windermere and the YHA manager picked me up from the station – immediately I felt welcome.

We arrived at the hostel just as another volunteer was checking in at the same time; within an hour the two of us were walking down a beautiful footpath to Hawkshead, with views of fells and lakes and swapping life stories.  It turned out there were about eight of us volunteering.

The next day we were challenged with ‘sorting out’ the self-catering kitchen – a space that clearly got a lot of use!  We decided on the materials needed and set about the cleaning – throwing out old lamp shades, moving fridges and furniture - we each quickly settled to tasks that suited us and got into a routine, all stopping for lunch together in the midst of our handiwork each day.  It was hard work: we cleared grime, scrubbed the ceiling and paintwork and repainted the walls, the shelving and doors. Someone had brought a radio, so we enjoyed music and chatted while we worked.

The first few days several of us, not used to this amount of physical work, found ourselves aching, but this quickly passed. It’s amazing how quickly large jobs can be achieved, when a group works well together – and by the end of the week, we were very proud of our gleaming kitchen. 

We felt a sense of pride and ownership. One morning, we took some time out and had a walk in the nearby Grizedale Forest and most evenings we’d walk into the local village to sample one of their pubs or buy a well-deserved bottle of wine for the group!  A busy week, with a sense of purpose, lovely people, hearty food, tremendous scenery, fresh air and lots of laughs … I returned smiling and feeling a bit fitter than when I’d left.  I’ll be back next year!”