Twenty two million people in the UK have committed themselves to becoming regular volunteers. Sue Cooke, Communications Officer with Children’s Liver Disease Foundation in Birmingham, explains why they decided to take the plunge.

“I didn’t realise how good it would make me feel about myself.” says 25-year-old Tom Whiting. Tom works as a volunteer at Children’s Liver Disease Foundation (CLDF) in Birmingham city centre.

Tom and twenty two million other people in the UK make a regular contribution on a voluntary basis to their local community. Volunteer’s Week, which runs until tomorrow celebrates this contribution, raises awareness of what it means and encourages others to volunteer.

According to the National Survey of Volunteering, a collective 88 million hours are contributed by volunteers each week. A mixture of altruism and self interest are given as motives. The largest proportion of people gave the reason as being “they offered to help” followed by “someone asked me”.

Around a quarter were volunteering as a result of a need in the community and to meet people and make friends.

Older people are more likely to stress free time as a motivating factor, while younger respondents cited the learning of new skills. Six out of ten volunteers said volunteering gave them an opportunity to learn new skills and that was Tom’s reason for volunteering.

He is unemployed and wanted some office experience. So for the last three months, he has worked at CLDF, a unique Birmingham-based national charity that fights childhood liver diseases by funding pioneering research and educating healthcare professions and the general public.

Formed in 1980, the charity provides professional and emotional support to families affected and is the only organisation of its kind in the UK. CLDF has six office based volunteers and numerous fundraising volunteers all around the country.

Margaret Adler is 56 and has a son who had a liver transplant due to a rare genetic liver disease. She said: “I wanted to give something back to the charity that had helped our family through a traumatic time in our lives. I have worked at CLDF for 14 years and do all sorts of jobs.

Catherine Arkley, chief executive of Children’s Liver Disease Foundation says: “We are indebted to our volunteers, who include all those who regularly fundraise for us. Seventy five per cent of our running costs come from volunteers all over the UK, who donate their time and energy. At least two children are diagnosed with a liver disease every day in the UK.”

One volunteering group in South Birmingham has discovered that volunteering time is money. Bournville Village Trust Housing Association has set up a ‘Time Bank’ which operates just like a bank but without any money, just deposits and withdrawals of volunteer time.

Time bank is a national initiative which operates with four core values that recognise that the real wealth of any society is its people.
All valuable activities have to be rewarded and counted as real work. Giving and receiving are the basic building blocks of social relationships and healthy communities. Belonging to a community gives life more meaning and offers more opportunities. Time bankers donate an hour of their time and in return receive an hour of someone else’s time free of charge and with no money exchanging hands.

The Bournville Time Bank is only the second of its kind in the Midlands and 26-year-old Robert Clement is a member. He said: “I have already credited my account with lots of hours by volunteering for projects ranging from cooking for senior citizens to helping out at youth clubs and other events.”

In return, Robert has attended a first aid course and received help filling in the forms for a youth opportunity fund grant which he says will help pay for his Open University Degree. “When I get a flat the Time Bank will hopefully be able to help me decorate it.” he added.

Twenty-two per cent of 18 to 24 year olds say volunteering helps them cut down on alcohol and 30 per cent say volunteering helps them smoke less.

So there are plenty of good reasons to become a volunteer.

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