Young people have a lot to offer others through volunteering. In recognition of this, the government has set up a group called the Russell Commission to help more young people get involved. In March it published a plan to recruit one million young volunteers. Among other things, this will involve the creation of a national database listing volunteering opportunities across the country in areas ranging from sport to the environment. In addition, 200 youth volunteer advisers will be on hand to help you choose something that suits you.
Becoming a volunteer
Everyone has something to offer as a volunteer, whatever their background. You may want to give time to something based in school by helping another student by acting as a peer mentor. Or you may be interested in contributing to your wider community in some way, such as getting involved in environmental work. In addition to helping others, you will also benefit personally from developing new skills and making new friends.
How much time?
If you want to give your time to something unconnected to school, you must make sure you do so outside of school hours. You can commit to a couple of hours a month or more, depending on how much time you can spare. But it is important not to take on too much otherwise you may find yourself missing out on time with your friends or unable to do your homework.
It is a good idea to get consent from a parent or guardian for any volunteering work you will be doing if you are under 16 because some organisations will want to know you have permission. Some organisations may not be able to take you on until you turn 16 because of problems with insurance.
Want to know more?
If you’re interested in doing voluntary work, there are local organisations that will be able to help you as well as your school. If you go to volunteering.org.uk you can search for groups in your area. Or to get more of an idea about the types of work you can do, go to www.do-it.org.uk.
Every charity has a board of trustees whose job it is to decide on what the charity does and how it spends its money. Lots of charities are keen to involve young people in their work so, if you are volunteering for a charity, depending on its structure and whether it allows under-18s on its board, you may also be able to get involved as a trustee. Even those organisations that are unable to take you on as a trustee often still want your views and may encourage participation from youth representatives and input from young people’s advisory groups to inform them about what young people really think.
If you are in receipt of any benefits, these will not be affected by any voluntary work providing you volunteer for less than 16 hours a week. More than that, and things can get complicated. So be sure to check out the financial consequences first at timebank.org.uk/aboutgiving/benefits.html
If you volunteer to work in a setting where you will come across vulnerable people, such as working in a nursing home or with people with learning difficulties, it is likely you will need to be checked by the Criminal Records Bureau to make sure you pose no threat to anyone. Volunteering centres or charities will let you know if you need to be vetted and will organise checks if you need them. It is worth remembering that this process, could delay your start date for voluntary work by a few weeks.
Tips from an expert
Nick Stanhope is a youth development officer at Young Timebank
Giving time to a good cause and helping other people usually means you get more out than you put in. The Year of the Volunteer’s Give A Billion Minutes campaign is asking everyone to pledge their time to reach the grand total of a billion minutes by the end of the year, so there’s never been a better time for young people to get started.
To start volunteering, the best thing that you can do is think about what kind of volunteering you want to do and what you want to get out of it.