A reflection on the difference volunteering makes to all of us
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” Martin Luther King
As we reach the end of 2021 Volunteer Week, BWP wants to celebrate its volunteers, thank them for the huge contribution they make and reflect on the difference volunteering makes to all of us.
There are close links between volunteering and Domestic Abuse – many Domestic Abuse charities rely heavily on volunteers, and the act of volunteering often helps restore broken lives following abuse.
BWP relies on the generosity of women who selflessly and freely give their expertise and time to provide us with a counselling and befriending service, a board of trustees and many other forms of support. Without them, we would not be able to provide such a complete and comprehensive service.
Volunteering is the altruistic act of freely giving time for the benefit of another person, group or organisation. As with acts of kindness, volunteering has massive benefits for both the volunteer and recipient. When we want to improve our mental health, our feelings of happiness, connectedness, value and sense of purpose, volunteering can be the perfect way of progressing all these issues – and the bonus is we’re doing good for others too!
“We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill
Volunteering has huge benefits in connecting people with others, reducing isolation and loneliness, strengthening existing social connections and developing a sense of community.
Loneliness is a common part of modern life for many, it’s linked with low moods, poor physical health and even a shorter life expectancy. Volunteering can connect people with others who share common interests and passions, it can also bring people from different age groups and cultural backgrounds together; enhancing social cohesion.
Particularly when volunteering for something you’re passionate about, it can bring about a sense of accomplishment and help improve our sense of purpose. Having a strong sense of purpose is linked with confidence, self-esteem and happiness. It can also help to develops practical, technical and interpersonal skills which will generally make you feel good about yourself and add to your self-esteem.
Research suggests that the more volunteering you do and the more groups you are involved with, the higher your level of general wellbeing. It is also useful in helping develop skills that enhance employability especially amongst the young.
Focusing on others will give us a different perspective on our own issues. When volunteering with those in great need or who are living in difficult circumstances and struggling with hardships, we might reflect and feel fortunate for what we have in a way we might otherwise have taken for granted. Focusing on others also has the benefit of distracting us from too much self-focus and negative thoughts, it may help us to stop ruminating too.
Volunteering has been seen as so critical to physical and emotional health and well-being that some progressive GP practices have developed a ‘social prescribing’ model to health care, encouraging patients, where appropriate, to take up volunteering as complementary to long-term medical treatment. Some of the physical health benefits include lowering blood pressure and improving fitness. The majority of those who volunteer on a regular basis believe it makes them physically healthier.
The benefits of reducing isolation, improving sense of self-esteem, enhancing happiness, providing sense of purpose and enhancing skills all have a significant benefit to mental health. Volunteering is also associated with the lowering of stress and anxiety. We’ve been brought up being told that giving feels better than receiving and this really seems to be true. We’re hard wired to give to others and when we do, we can commonly feel a ‘helper’s high’ which is associated with a release of feel-good hormones associated with giving. A 2013 report from the cabinet office put the financial equivalent of the wellbeing benefit derived from volunteering at over £13,000 per volunteer.
Volunteering can provide the perfect route to recovery for women subjected to Domestic Abuse. Domestic Abuse commonly causes social isolation, low confidence, poor self-esteem, low moods, stress and anxiety. Volunteering can help improve all these issues and restore a sense of purpose that is so important for happiness and self-worth. Because we understand how valuable volunteering can be for domestic abuse recovery, BWP invites former service users to volunteer for us once their support has ended.
We also run a wellbeing project for both our service users and volunteers. This project includes many types of social support including a reading group, coffee mornings, walking group and regular newsletters.
At BWP we’re extremely fortunate to have a team of committed and loyal volunteers. They come to us for many different reasons and with various sets of skills. They freely give their time in ways that enhance the charity and provide the ladies we support with opportunities such as counselling and befriending we would otherwise not be able to offer. Our board of trustees offer their time and expertise to help steer the organisation in a dynamic and progressive manner so that we’re able to provide the best possible service to the women who need us most.
We always appreciate our volunteers and all that they do, but this week in particular we want to say a big thank you and let them know we are constantly grateful for their invaluable support.