This weekend was Heritage Open Days weekend and I was back in the same place I was a year ago at St Thomas Church in Hyde. This time I wasn't pouring the tea; I was enjoying a cream tea with my family instead. A year ago I decided to volunteer for a different group or charity every week and write about it in the Tameside Reporter. With one simple question: Why would people do something for nothing? I had been a volunteer for 10 years so I had some idea of its benefits. Maybe I didn't know why I had volunteered and I was looking for answers. I started in a traditional way at Willow Wood Hospice charity shop in Stalybridge. There I met many people who seemed like traditional volunteers. They were retired and explained that they were looking for something to do and companionship. This was, just as I suspected, the very start.
There are volunteers in our schools, helping in the hospital, running events essential to our community and raising much-needed funds for charities. Although there are roughly 23,000 regular volunteers in Tameside people often give their time without even noticing. It is just something communities do.
There are volunteers across Tameside of lots of different ages, volunteering for so many different groups that it may have easily taken me a further 10 years to get round everyone. I wanted to give you an idea of the many things that you could do across the towns of Tameside and be as varied as possible.
People's individual motivation obviously varied. Those who are retired may be people who like to keep busy or keep their connection to society. I remember Ian from the hospital telling me that he'd been retired for only two weeks before he started volunteering. Young people may have the motivation to get experience to prepare them for the workplace like those at The Melting Munch in Ashton. Those of working age might want to have a career change, get back into the job market or increase their confidence after they have been ill or had a baby, like the ladies at Hyde Community Action. These are all great reasons to volunteer.
Some of the people I met at the Stroke Association and on the Dementia ward of the hospital had relatives with similar conditions and had stayed on to help others when their relatives had died. Some volunteers at the Food Banks and the Street Pastors were motivated by their faith. Whatever the reason, volunteering gave them quite often a new lease of life, the possibility to do or be something different, from a beekeeper to a bell ringer. Keeping traditions alive through the Whit Friday Band Contests and helping the most vulnerable in our society through Talking Newspapers or just talking.
Doing good things is rewarding to you personally and there has been much research to show that happiness can be derived from helping others. The need to be there for someone else is something inbuilt within us whatever our background and beliefs.
I have worked in restaurants in the past but gained new pleasure from waitressing and serving food when I did it voluntarily. This is the strange thing about volunteering; sometimes getting paid can change the nature of the experience. Again much research has been done on intrinsic motivation, which means being motivated by something internally and not something externally like money. Having said that it is my strong belief that volunteering needs to be a choice. People have the right to a basic standard of living and that comes with a living wage. If an organisation thinks that role needs to be paid then that should be the case. I saw this in action at 2nd-Generation Furnishing and the Wooden Canal Boat Society who had both generated jobs for local people.
I think the most important thing about volunteering is that you can become the person that you want to be. You can try anything you want to do and if it turns out not for you, then you can change your mind. You can’t be expected to get everything from your job or a hobby and volunteering can be a wonderful addition for a short time or a longer one.
I want to thank you for coming on his journey with me and to all the people that helped me. I know it seemed odd when I asked to volunteer and write about it but you let me into your organisations with warmth and understanding and to the volunteers of Tameside, thank you for giving your most precious gift, you.
If you think you might like to try volunteering, or even try more volunteering, you can visit Community Voluntary Action Tameside at www.cvat.org.uk