Volunteers, the everyday heroes of the charity world. These are the people who offer their skills and time with no payment necessary. These are the people who create that all-important network that we thrive on.  

Last year at Wessex Cancer Trust, volunteers spent 48,000 hours of their own time helping us out, despite fewer members of the public taking part in formal volunteering in 2018 (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport). The same research tells us that those who do get involved have a real sense of belonging. 

So why do people volunteer? What’s in it for them? Within this big network comes lots of different characters, so we grabbed a word with three of them. Crispin, who volunteers at the Wessex Cancer Trust Shop in Hythe, and Christine and John, both befrienders (the first person you meet when you come to a Wessex Cancer Trust Support Centre).

 

The Joy In Getting Involved 
Whether it is two hours a week or twenty, volunteers are integral to the charity. Crispin says, “It’s fun. You meet characters and regulars and make good friends. No day in charity retail is the same,” he explains. Some days can be happy, some days sad but the job keeps you busy and gives you a purpose. 

John, who is 74 and thriving finds himself spending a lot of time filling the befriender role automatically. Christine’s story is a dedicated one too. Starting out as a receptionist for the charity, people were constantly coming through the door needing support:

“Rather than be based in one space all day, I chose to get stuck in and give back. We help people who enter as strangers and they leave as family.”


Belonging To A Community 
People come into Wessex Cancer Trust for support, our befrienders are here for them. Just one acknowledgement of the good work these volunteers do gives an unexplainable boost as John explains:

“You get to a point in life where you realise people need help. When you’re that able person who can assist, why wouldn’t you?”

Everyone gets lonely sometimes. With Wessex Cancer Trust, volunteers express a strong feeling of togetherness. Over time these bonds can create, even with that competitive side to things too:

“Each charity shop and each office are strong family networks.” states Caroline, Area Retail Manager, “We do compete against each other in terms of that business mindset too, so that’s a challenge in being close with everyone.”

 

Remembering The Business Element 
Especially within the retail element of charity work, there’s no pattern or trend to predict a successful period. In previous years, workers could expect busy days and rushes, but no longer is there that certainty within the charity sector. Donations increase around holiday periods, although sales are unpredictable and the staff work hard to sell what they have. 

Charity shops do have to run like a business, Caroline clarifies. Staff are provided targets to hit just like in any other store, meaning the drive to succeed as an operating store. 

Caroline says, “All of our profit goes to our Cancer Support Centres. Our shops are of high quality, and customers enjoy the stores and so do we.”

 

The Unspoken Benefits 
The term volunteer sounds pretty broad, and may allow us to forget what this actually involves. Having that larger network and big outreach, here at Wessex Cancer Trust we can provide several roles to the public depending on your skillset:

John says, “Everyone has a slightly different passion and different things they can bring to the table. At the heart of what we do is simply talking to people. Befriending people in the shops, being a shoulder to cry on.”

John puts it very simply – volunteers want to do it because they want to help. That’s what all of it comes down to; the hours put in, the offices built, the sales made and the charity itself. Once someone has ignited that drive within them and directed it towards helping others, it is almost impossible to stop them. 

In a more self-centred light, volunteers are doing the role for themselves too. Christine explains this nicely, pointing out how it makes you feel better at the end of the day, gets you out of the house, meet new people and help you become a stronger version of yourself. Even jotting it down on your CV to demonstrate your skillsets shows how you have that innate human instinct to help others and act on it. 

Volunteering gives you the opportunity to grow, to develop within yourself and gain the confidence you didn’t know you had before:

Caroline commented, “For those who are shy, having a role like this can push you and give you a comfortable environment to flourish in.” 

  

Getting The Most Out Of The Work You Do 
Dealing with the sensitive nature of cancer on a day to day schedule can be challenging, but volunteering is so much more than the challenges you face. As Crispin puts it, taking care of people is the primary goal. He says, “Not one day have I not enjoyed coming to work. I do it because I want to, and have shared values and a passion for the charity makes all the difference.

“Knowing what’s expected from you in your role allows you to appreciate everything outside of that.” 

“We are building up our community, gaining camaraderie and becoming part of something for everyone to thrive. That’s where fulfilment is found, watching people move on with their lives after all they’ve gone through.”

 

The volunteers who play their part for Wessex Cancer Trust are the backbone for the charity. It is their generosity, spirit and togetherness that cements the bonds that we all make and what connects us all.