Last year, following a very long absence from the voluntary sector, I took the plunge and became a formal volunteer with the NHS. I have re-joined a community of over 20.1 million – or over 38% of people in the UK – who have formally volunteered at least once in the last year. With estimated annual contributions of c£17bn each year to the British economy, formal volunteering is big business and there is strong evidence it is good for you, both from a wellbeing and professional development perspective.
My voluntary journey started when I read that a very local, rather new and relatively unheard of museum, had been shortlisted for ‘National Museum of the Year’. The museum in question is the ‘Museum of The Mind’, which is located in the grounds of the Royal Bethlem Hospital, in Beckenham, Kent, and is one of the oldest psychiatric institutes in the western world – known in less enlightened times as ‘Bedlam’. The following week, the results were in and Museum of The Mind came in runner up, pipped to the post by the V&A no less.
Situated within the hospital grounds, this award-winning museum is housed within a stunning art deco building shared with the Bethlem Gallery and was formally opened by the Artist Grayson Perry in 2015. The museum cares for an internationally renowned collection of archives, art and historic objects, which together offer an unparalleled resource to support the history of mental health care and treatment.
In the recently ‘Time Well Spent’ survey published by the NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) among the different benefits people feel they gain from volunteering is a sense of connection and meeting new people with different and diverse backgrounds. People’s sense of connection to the organisation they volunteer with and the cause it supports is also a key aspect of the volunteer experience. Most people report a sense of belonging to an organisation and a culture of respect and trust – factors that are strongly associated with their likelihood to continue.
The survey concludes that the key driver for volunteers is ‘helping people or improving things’; however, some of the benefits of volunteering for the individual are well documented:
Strong evidence suggests volunteering can contribute to enhanced mental health, including the alleviation of depression, reduced anxiety and stress and more serious mental health disorders.
Volunteering has the potential to enhance your career or secure a new role by developing new skills. These can include leadership, project management, presentations skills, knowledge of a new sector.
Volunteering can undoubtedly change the way you view the world or, closer to home, your local community. It also provides an opportunity to connect with new people from different backgrounds with different perspectives.
Since joining the museum as a front of house volunteer, all of the above experiences have come to life and it’s been a privilege to volunteer in a world-renowned psychiatric campus, which includes The National Autistic Unit, The Mother and Baby Unit and the National Eating Disorders Service. The NHS provide a first-class induction programme for formal volunteers and mine included an extremely enlightening and non-accredited introduction to their national mental health services. For further information on voluntary services and opportunities in the UK, visit www.ncvo.org.uk
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