Too busy to volunteer?
It’s January and we’re awash with surveys into our health and wellbeing. There are all kinds of questions being asked in an attempt to find a quantifiable indicator for happiness.
One such question is that of volunteering. Do you commit regular time to being a volunteer? If so, how many hours per week?
It’s a question that I imagine being put to Madge, the wonderful ‘70 something’ in my village around whom the community buzzes with vigour and compassion. How would she respond? She’d say: “Am I a volunteer? No dear, I simply don’t have time for that!”
For some, volunteering may be seen as a kind of employment. Unpaid but essentially much the same. It’s a job role with a person specification, there are terms and conditions, expenses, supervision, DBS checks, training and a limited commitment.
I decry none of this, especially when volunteers are doing things that could be a danger to themselves or others. A volunteer centre or bureau is, no doubt, very good at recruiting people for this kind of volunteering. Big charities with volunteer ‘workforces’ also have the capacity and need to engage volunteers in this way.
However, rural community life is very different.
Activities that people do as part of a life lived in a village are still voluntary but take on a different form to ‘formal’ volunteering. For people like Madge, being busy making the community tick does not feel like volunteering, it is simply the reality of a living in a community that does things for itself.
If people do not take responsibility themselves there will be no Village Hall in which elections can take place. There will be no lunch club for older isolated people. The village minibus will not run and the youth club will close.
But beyond these very tangible things that do need some regulation, more important things won’t happen either. Neighbours will not keep an eye on those next door who are vulnerable or just back from hospital. Simple clubs and societies that create a positive quality of life for all will quietly, invisibly fall apart.
And life will not be much fun, whatever age you are or however ‘connected’ you may be.
So by all means promote volunteering and wrap it in all the checks needed to keep volunteers and vulnerable people safe. But let’s celebrate the people who are too busy getting on with being a part of their community’s life to commit their time to a type of ‘volunteering’ that they don’t recognise.