Celebrating and Exploring International Volunteers Day this 5th December by Keeping it Wild Trainee Max

Volunteers at Brent Reservoir credit Catherine Cullen

Every year on the 5th December, International Volunteers Day raises awareness of the millions of people across the world who have been volunteering their time to help causes close to them. In the U.K. alone, 19.4 million (36% of the population) of people volunteered formally in the year 2018/19 showing the importance of volunteering. In this blog, I will explore volunteering and talk about some of my own experiences as a young person volunteering in London.

What is International Volunteers Day?

International Volunteers Day (IVD), occurring on the 5th December, is an international awareness day created by the United Nations in 1985, to celebrate the importance of volunteers and their work, and to encourage governments around the world to support volunteerism. The theme of this year’s IVD is “Together We Can Through Volunteering”. This year’s theme is designed as a way of thanking and recognising the millions of extra people who have been on the frontline during the pandemic, providing crucial medical and community actions. Alongside this, there has been a mass realisation in the U.K. that people have been appreciating nature and spending more time outdoors leading to more people being interested in volunteering in nature.

~ Did you know? The hours devoted to volunteering around the world is equivalent to an astonishing 109 million full-time workers! ~

💬As a young person myself, what have my experiences been like? 💬

I would describe myself as a serial volunteer, using a lot of my free time volunteering in the environmental, conservation or animal welfare charity sectors. There are several reasons that led me to volunteer but one of the main ones was to meet like-minded people, especially as I had only moved to London in the middle of 2019. Moving to London can be daunting, not least overwhelming, but I found that volunteering really helped me settle and find myself a purpose, as well as make friends.

One of the other reasons was to gain experience in the sectors in which I wanted to work in. Despite having a relevant degree, the conservation sector is highly competitive – especially for the entry-level positions, which has been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite this, I have found that volunteering has given me the opportunity to gain skills in so many areas including practical conservation, communications and volunteer management. In addition to this, I have found volunteering to be great for my mental health and confidence with studies showing volunteering decreases stress, boosts your immune system and increases your overall life satisfaction (1).

However, I have met people that struggle to fit volunteering alongside their full-time jobs, and they aren’t alone; a recent survey showed that work commitments were the number one barrier (49% of people) for people not taking part in formal volunteering (2). I was fortunate at the time that I worked in a flexible role where I was able to swap shifts allowing me to work and volunteer at the same time. However, if you’re not able to be as flexible as this, many volunteering opportunities are now giving more support to help remove potential barriers to involvement, including:

  • Paying for out-of-pocket expenses (such as travel/lunch)
  • Providing training and mentorship
  • Offering a variety of roles for all skill levels
WAP at Crane Park Island Richmond College

Young People from Richmond College on their Wild Action Programme credit Olli Slatter

👇Haven’t volunteered before? Here’s my advice👇

Volunteering for the first time can be a scary experience – especially when volunteer groups are already established, but if I could offer you one piece of advice, I would say don’t be put off volunteering after one experience. Through my volunteering roles, I have definitely found that some roles just aren’t meant for me, and that’s ok! You aren’t hopeless or a failure because one role doesn’t work out. One thing I always have to remind myself in volunteering is that you have the power in these positions and if one role doesn’t work out, there are plenty more out there that’ll be a great fit! You have to make sure the role will be worth your time because your time is valuable – and there are a variety of roles out there; online, ad-hoc (when necessary), regular, one-offs (events) to name just a few.

So, we have explored volunteering, gone through some of the benefits and my own personal experiences. What type of opportunities are there for Londoners?

Of course, the London Wildlife Trust has a variety of projects and sites you can volunteer with, so definitely check out the “Get Involved” tab at the top!

I personally find a lot of my volunteering roles on social media or job boards. My favourite job boards to check for volunteer roles are CharityJob, Team London and DoIt.

Further to this, there are a number of other conservation charities in London offering volunteer roles including: The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), The Royal Parks, Froglife, RSPB, Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Bat Conservation Trust, Trees for Cities and Thames21. So definitely keep your eye out for these roles if you are interested!

Water for wildlife volunteer work day

Want to read more about what was discussed in this blog or take part in celebrating International Volunteers Day? Follow the links below!

#IVD2020 #TogetherWeCan

Reference list
1 - Alena Hall. (2018). 6 ways volunteering benefits your health. Available: https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/6-ways-volunteering-benefits-y…. Last accessed 26th Nov 2020.
2 - Community Works. REMOVE BARRIERS TO VOLUNTEERING. Available: https://www.bhcommunityworks.org.uk/voluntary-sector/volunteering/good-…. Last accessed 26th Nov 2020.