Across the isles at any given point, there are thousands of people offering their services for free. From sports clubs to hall committees, festivals and organisations, our community would not be what it is without the work of volunteers, writes Louise Thomason in her latest profile of voluntary organisations based at Market House.
For those people who don’t already volunteer but would like to, there are a wealth of options. The staff at Voluntary Action Shetland Volunteering, based at Market House, are there to place people where they’d be best suited.
Volunteer placement and support worker Kathleen Williamson works to help match people’s skills to the opportunities that would best suit them.
A list of the current volunteer placements available can be viewed online at the VAS website.
There is a diverse range of interesting opportunities: from admin assistants and volunteer drivers, to vegetable farm helpers and puppy ambassador. For many positions no experience is necessary, and folk can volunteer as much time as they would like.
Mrs Williamson said: “We have a database … and although something might not be on the list we’re always happy to help folk find something that meets their skills and interests.”
The advantages of volunteering may seem obvious to the group or person benefiting from the service, but to the volunteer it is also a very worthwhile activity.
“To the volunteer there’s benefits in that it can give them skills, and look good on their CV but also, for their mental health, it’s giving them a sense of purpose to get up and do things,” she said.
“Also, they can share their skills with others. It might give them a sense of routine, and just improving feelings of self esteem and self worth, giving back to the community, feeling like they’re helping other folk in the place that they live.”
With financial constraints and funding cuts, many organisations are reliant on voluntary work, particularly for fundraising. VAS offers advice and support to these organisations, helping them to recruit volunteers.
Ellen Hughson of Shetland Bereavement Support Services (SBSS) said fundraising done by those in the community had been vital to allowing their service to continue: “Following two years of fundraising with local groups, raffles, soup and sweets etc, enough funds were raised to resume our one to one support service in Shetland.
“SBSS would like to thank everyone who has donated to the service, and continues to do so. Without your help, we would not be able to offer free, confidential bereavement support, which is in so much demand.”
There are also many volunteering opportunities for young people. Neil Pearson is development worker for VAS Youth Volunteering, working to coordinate prospective volunteers aged 12-25.
For young people, the hours spent volunteering can be an important addition to a CV, adding evidence of experience, and can also go towards local and national awards. Part of the work of VAS Youth Volunteering is ensuring that the volunteers meet the criteria for the Saltire Awards.
This national initiative recognises, rewards and celebrates the work and commitment made by young volunteers aged 12-25. The awards acknowledge the hours spent volunteering and involve keeping a personal profile on skills, training and achievement, which can help with applications further education or work.
Mr Pearson was keen to point out that while volunteering can benefit young people from the point of view of their CVs and prospective employers, it means a lot more than that.
“Sometimes the message of volunteering can be lost – it sounds a simple question but I often ask what is volunteering? It can benefit the person doing it in so many ways, but somebody else benefiting from what you do is really what makes volunteering special.”
Mr Pearson also works to make sure that organisations are meeting the criteria for Volunteer Friendly, a quality standard to support, recognise and reward groups who are good at involving volunteers. Gaining this award can help with a range of things, including applying for funding.
He wanted to urge anyone considering volunteering to give it a try: “I don’t think people realise how important volunteers are – our community would fall apart without them.”
“It’s amazing what you can do for your community, you can improve your own mental health and that of the folk you help.
“We need volunteers. If anyone has ever thought about volunteering, stop thinking and come and see us and do something about it.”
Freya Stout, 17, has been volunteering with RSPB Young Volunteers for three years. She said: “I found out about it through a friend and it sounded like a fun thing to do and a chance to help out.”
The RSPB Young Volunteers won the won the “one team” award for their conservation work and efforts in helping others experience nature at this year’s Youth Volunteering Awards, held in November.
Freya said: “We help out in a lot of interesting events, it’s really varied work that we do, which you can learn lots of skills from. A lot of the RSPB work is very practical and it’s mostly outside work, going to places like Mousa, which is nice.”
She also had encouraging words for any youth thinking about volunteering: “Go for it, you can get a lot out of it and it looks really good on your CV.”
VAS executive officer Catherine Hughson said: “Shetland is always placed in the first three highest percentage of volunteering per head of population in Scotland. Island communities need volunteers to make things happen at ground level – this is shown by the enthusiasm of the volunteers and the volunteering activities that are undertaken across the isles.”
For more information on adult volunteering, you can contact Kathleen Williamson on 01595 743910 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
You can reach Neil Pearson at Youth Volunteering by emailing email@example.com or calling 01595 743911. Alternatively drop in to Market House, Lerwick.