By Noha Choudhury
Volunteering has come to be recognised as a core part of UK culture. Volunteers’ Week is evidence of this; established in 1984, the UK has a week dedicated to celebrating the contributions of millions of volunteers who have all chosen to support a local or national cause.
Here at TGIUK, I asked Johann and Kosta to reflect on their own extensive volunteering experiences. Their answers are truly inspiring and we hope it may encourage you to also get involved in volunteering.
How did your journey with volunteering begin?
For Kosta, his first memory of volunteering was in the membership department of Royal Surrey County hospital, an experience which would prove pertinent to his own studies and career.
‘The first memory of volunteering in the UK was volunteering in the membership department of Royal Surrey County hospital where I undertook the project of promoting the hospital’s membership to the minority groups of the area covered by the hospital. This was to get the minority group to be members of the hospital and explain to them that in this way, it would help them to have a say in how the services are run and ask for any changes in the services that would be beneficial to them. It was relevant to my degree (Healthcare Management) and where I would later work, which is in the NHS.’
For Johann’s journey, he started volunteering in 2006. Johann began supporting a local Youth Media Charity in North London, and enjoyed it so much that he still supports them today. Indeed, volunteering is a core part of Johann’s own values and encouraged him to shift his career path to the Third Sector.
‘I have always held the belief that to give to others is a requirement of qualifying as a human-being. In the Jewish culture, the concept of ‘tzedakah’, meaning philanthropy and charity, but the true meaning is that of justice. It is so much more than just a financial offer but more about building trusting relationships and concepts and contributions of time, effort and insight. So, I have always practiced tzedakah in my life, jobs and community…
Two years after [supporting the local Youth Media Charity], I was made redundant for the 2nd time in 10 years and decided that I shall divert my skill and experiences to the Third Sector – It then became a way of life for me forging many relationships, career choices and establishing and running social enterprises.’
How is volunteering perceived in the UK?
As explained in how his own volunteering experience came to benefit his career path, Kosta also recognises the mutual beneficiary relationship between the volunteer and the community:
‘From what I have experienced, volunteering in the UK is perceived as something good for the community. Career-wise, it helps you get the experience you need for paid employment in your chosen career’
Johann recognises the growing appreciation for volunteering on a local, as well as on a national, scale. He also observes how careers are increasingly being fostered in the Third Sector:
I think the financial crash in 2008 meant that there was an ever-increasing need for community-based charities, and funding was better distributed nationally.
Do you have any particular stories or memories from volunteering?
Johann has undertaken many different roles in charities from being a bid-writer in a funding team to being the co-founder and owner of a social enterprise which uses film and media to engage and work with young people with challenging behaviour and social/emotional difficulties. The work is rewarding for him and enables young people to have an unfiltered voice. Here, Johann recalls a personal lesson learnt from a particular group of young people:
‘I think one of the most memorable lessons I have learned is to never underestimate human endeavour and certainly to not ever make assumptions about people, especially young people.
I once gave an assignment to a group of young people to make a short film about friendship. These were young people with challenging circumstances, often looked after and behaviourally certainly very challenging to manage. So, they went away and came back a few days later with their chosen title and concept for the film. To my horror, they pronounced that they were going to make a film about the “Zombie Apocalypse at Bergenfield School”. I said to them ‘ Guys, I asked you to make a short film about friendship’, thinking in my adult way, this is not about friendship but about blood and gore.
To my surprise, and a deep lesson in the risk of making assumptions, they said to me, “…but Sir, this is about friendships. Three friends battle the Zombies to save their friend that has been captured by the Zombies” ”They also save the community and the whole of England” Well, I was left mealy-mouthed and in the end, they made a wonderful 10 min short film about friendships with special effects and all.’
Similarly, some of Kosta’s own fondest memories come from helping other people at TGIUK to feel empowered in their own voice:
‘We have had testimonies from people that have been given the chance to tell their stories and through that they have realised their potential or gift. Also, being told by that other peoples’ stories have helped them get through situations or they have learnt from them.’
What advice would you give to migrants in the UK who are looking to volunteer?
Kosta: ‘A piece of advice is to get involved with a cause that is close to your heart and situation. This helps your motivation as you are doing something that is important to you.
Also, if you volunteer while trying to find a job, then it would be good to volunteer in an organisation and role which is relevant to the industry you want to work in. It is always useful to hone your skills in a volunteering position.’
Johann: ‘I’d say, if you wanted to assimilate and integrate into British Culture and Values, do consider volunteering. There are enormous benefits to be had, including improving your English, understanding British Culture and its people, exhibiting a proactive disposition to take initiative and being on the radar of employers looking for productive future employees.
It also enables British people to learn about you, your culture, the journey you may have made to get here and your willingness to take change by the hand and embrace it. You have so much to give and teach others and volunteering is definitely a great way of showing this side of yourself.
Finally, never be afraid of failing. We all learn from failure and it makes us stronger. To fail and then to rise again having learned from the failure is one of the hallmarks of courageous, strong and determined people who can face any challenge.’
To find out more about Volunteering Week in the UK, please visit the Volunteers’Week website: https://volunteersweek.org/
In the spirit of Johann and Kosta’s advice, if you are interested in volunteering, there are several websites always advertising a variety of different volunteering opportunities:
https://www.charityjob.co.uk/?source=nav (CharityJob has a section dedicated to volunteering)
https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/volunteering/search/ (London-based volunteering)