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© National Trust Images / Arnhel de Serra

Volunteering in the country

Volunteering reduces stress, finds you friends, teaches new skills and gives you a fantastic sense of pride and purpose
© National Trust Images

"We all lead busy lives and can’t always commit to a regular schedule, or simply feel the fear at having another thing to add to the to-do list, but there are less structured ways to get involved."

Katy Dunn


Many people have that altruistic urge to help people and give back, but life takes over and it can be one of those New Year’s resolutions that never quite gets put into action. Others already feel overwhelmed by a busy life and can’t imagine where they would fit it in. For many, it’s about simply not really knowing what to do and where to start.

First of all, it’s not just for those with time on their hands. A couple of hours a week (or even a month) can make a huge difference both to the organisation you’re helping and to your own feelings of self-worth. Gemma Carter goes litter picking with the local conservation group in her village on the first Saturday of every month.

© National Trust Images


“You might not think it, but it’s actually very therapeutic,” she says. “We’re given a ‘grabber’ and bin bag and a patch of area to cover and off we go for an hour or two. I’m quite shy but the conversation is somehow easier because you’re doing something else at the same time. I’ve had some lovely chats with people in the village I’d otherwise never meet. It’s also really satisfying to see the difference an hour’s litter-picking can make. The place just looks more cared for.”

Gemma started volunteering with the conservation group because she was always complaining about the litter in the village, and eventually her daughter challenged her to do something about it. Everyone has a different motivation for volunteering and a different way in.

How do I start?

If you’re at the ‘where do I begin?’ stage, first ask yourself if there’s something specific you enjoy or want to achieve. Gemma’s aim was less litter in the village – yours might be fewer hungry homeless people on the streets (why not volunteer at a homeless shelter?). Or, it could be a more personal aim to improve your digital media skills to get a different job. A period of time volunteering to help manage the website at a charity could give you the necessary skills and experience to put on your CV.

Your aim may be to learn something completely new, or you might want to share your skills in something you’re good at. When Hugh Mothersole was asked by a national charity if they could use one of his photographs on their website, ‘one thing led to another’, and now his photography hobby is saving the charity thousands of pounds in professional fees and his talent is getting the recognition it deserves.

Alternatively, you might love animals but work or home circumstances mean you can’t have a pet of your own. Dog rescue shelters always need dog walkers to exercise and socialise their dogs, and Riding For The Disabled is a charity that uses horses as therapy. Volunteer groups organise activities such as riding, carriage-driving and showjumping for people with disabilities and it’s a great way to enjoy working with horses and helping people at the same time.

What if I can’t commit?

We all lead busy lives and can’t always commit to a regular schedule, or simply feel the fear at having another thing to add to the to-do list, but there are less structured ways to get involved. For instance, most charities will hold fund or awareness-raising events that need many volunteers to help organise and run on the day, and these may only be a few times a year. You could offer to be on their volunteer list and then when you get the call it’s up to you to decide whether or not you can fit it in.

There are other things you can do at home. For instance, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People would love you to hold a Barking Bake Off cake sale or Paws for Coffee to raise money for their cause.

What opportunities are out there?

Most charities have teams on hand to give you all the training and support you need to get started. You’d be amazed at what you could do.

At the National Trust, for instance, there are some incredible volunteering opportunities. As a house volunteer or room guide, you can indulge your passion for heritage and enjoy behind-the- scenes access to some of the country’s most beautiful places. You could indulge your green-fingered hobby in the garden or arrange flower decorations in the house. If you love nothing more than muddy boots and fresh air, you could help the rangers with conservation work in woodland and on heaths and meadows.

Roger Green never imagined that one day he’d be running tours of a Second World War bunker or operating an 18th century watermill. Here’s his story…

To see the latest volunteer opportunities in your area at the National Trust, keep checking here.


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