My name is Sarah and I’m a first year Midwifery student. I volunteer through the Students’ Union Volunteering Centre, and talking to people about it, I have noticed a lot of misconceptions people have about volunteering. So, I thought I’d bust a few of the biggest myths for you!
Myth 1: Volunteering costs a lot of money
Not true! I currently volunteer for the Beaver Scouts in Broomfield as a Leader. I had to get a DBS check (a check of my criminal record, which is a requirement before volunteering with children or vulnerable adults) and the Scouts paid for it. I also needed to buy a uniform- and the Scouts reimbursed me. In terms of travel costs, it’s close enough for me to walk or cycle to the regular meetings, and recently when we went on a trip, one of the other Leaders gave me a lift in her car. Some charities will reimburse travel expenses – if this is something you’re worried about, speak to the charity in advance and see what their deal is. There are plenty of volunteering opportunities that won’t cost you a penny.
Myth 2: You have to have a lot of free time to volunteer
As a Midwifery student, I do not have a lot of free time. I have essays, lectures, skills labs, placement, reading lists…. Not to mention laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, sport… and a social life! There are lots of ways I’ve found to fit volunteering around my other commitments. Firstly, find something a bit flexible that fits into your timetable. I often don’t have lectures on Wednesdays and my sport club meets at the weekend, so I do Beavers on a Wednesday night. It’s only an hour and a half, so that helps. In general, I write a lot of lists to help me keep organised and focused and make sure I meet my degree deadlines. I also communicate with people: everyone involved in volunteering understands you have other commitments and that your degree has to come first, so as long as you explain, they will understand. I also try and double-up my time – so I socialise with friends at a one-off volunteering event at 92, or I watch anatomy and physiology videos on public transport as I head to a volunteering event.
Myth 3: You need to commit every week
I, like a lot of you, have placements at the hospital as part of my degree. And the rota comes out monthly, and it’s not regular or predictable. Committing to turning up every week isn’t something I can do. Luckily the Beavers are happy for me to come most weeks, so long as I tell them in advance which meetings I’m not going to be able to attend. I negotiated this with them from the beginning, and I can’t imagine they’re the only charity who would be open to a compromise like this. So long as you’re honest and open from the start, and communicate well about when you are and aren’t likely to attend, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Another solution is one-off volunteering. Recently over Christmas, I went to a one-off volunteering session run by the Students’ Union Volunteer Centre where we wrapped presents for the elderly and made cards for Pen Pals which sends cards to severely ill children, whilst enjoying a glass of mulled wine and some Christmas music.
Myth 4: You need to commit for a long period of time, like a whole year
Again, not true! Most roles do not, in fact, expect long-term commitments (though there are some role like befriending which do, if that is what you are looking for or want). For example, I volunteered at the Memory Walk, which is run by the Alzheimer’s Society. It’s a huge sponsored walk to raise money for dementia research and support services, and I volunteered as a marshal: encouraging the walkers and ensuring nobody got lost on the route. It was in beautiful Hylands Park, it was just one morning and I was finished by lunchtime. There are plenty of opportunities like this, which are one-off events, on the volunteering section of the SU website here
Myth 5: It’s all serious and hard work
This Christmas, I really wanted to go and see Frozen II. Bear with me, this is relevant, I promise. I loved the first one, but I was too embarrassed to go to the cinema by myself to watch it – I needed some children to take with me. Unfortunately for this plan, I don’t have any children of my own, nor do I have any nieces and nephews…. I was seriously considering going all the way to Cambridge and borrowing my God-children (who had already seen it but I’m sure I could have bribed them to see it again). However, such drastic action wasn’t necessary when the Beavers announced their Christmas treat was going to be…. A trip to the cinema to see Frozen II! I was so excited. I got to sit in a nice cosy cinema, watch a film, and count it as volunteering hours. I did have to take one of the Beavers to the toilet in the middle of a key song though! At the end of the film all the little Beavers were singing ‘Into the Unknown” as we left the cinema, which was a lovely moment, and not at all serious.
Myth 6: There’s nothing in it for the volunteers
Mulled wine? Trips to the cinema? Still not convinced?
I honestly think I have got far more out of volunteering than I have ever put in. In terms of experiences, friendships, learning, skills, memories, challenges and more. Since I’ve started at ARU, I’ve been logging my volunteer hours and my volunteer skills on the online portal. This means that I’m working towards getting a certificate to recognise my achievement, and also I’ll have a skills portfolio to show how I have developed skills in my volunteering roles. I’m a mature student, and this is my second degree. I can remember what trying to find a job was like after I graduated the first time round – and honestly if I’d have had something like this skill portfolio, it would have made my life a lot easier. The question isn’t whether you can afford to volunteer- it’s whether you can afford not to.
Inspired? Search for your volunteering role now!