Think volunteering and it’s likely the role of charity fundraiser or club leader will spring to mind. But, while both are important cogs in the UK’s well-oiled social action machine, the volunteering landscape is so much more than that.
As part of our work helping schools, hospitals and local councils tap into the time and talents of local people, we’ve uncovered a whole host of volunteers giving their time in unusual ways.
From giving out flips flops, to packing crates of oranges to always being on call with a de-fib machine - these local heroes are changing their communities for the better and smashing the volunteering stereotype at the same time.
Charities like FareShare get hundreds of volunteers who understand logistics and operations working in warehouses to bring in surplus food from the food and drink industry.
The goods are then sorted and delivered to more than 6,000 frontline charities and community groups supporting vulnerable people, including homeless shelters, children’s breakfast clubs and domestic violence refuges.
Raymond Lee, 57, has volunteered with FareShare for two years:
"I’ve worked in warehousing roles in the past so I’ve got lots of skills, like first aid and forklift truck driving. At Fareshare I drive a forklift truck, sort the surplus food that comes in from suppliers and help make up the orders for the charities that get the food. I’m a physical person, not an IT kind of person. This keeps you fit and you get enjoyment from it. It’s rewarding, seeing where the food goes.”
Many rural post office workers or community centre managers have been trained in how to give first aid and, in particular, how to use a defibrillator machine. They respond to all kinds of emergencies where the remote location would mean an ambulance will take a long time to arrive.
The same principle is now being used by GoodSAM, an app which alerts trained first aiders to cardiac emergencies in their area while the professionals are on their way, and has so far been rolled out by five ambulance services across the country.
The partnership has already proved enormously effective, saving four lives.
Student paramedic Alex Grant, 19, volunteers for GoodSAM and in 18 months has already been alerted to multiple emergencies in London where he has been required to perform life-saving interventions:
“I am able to utilise my continuing studies as a Student Paramedic but the app is open to all those with suitable qualifications and encourages those with a passion for giving something back to the community to sign up. At the end of the day, chest compressions are just as valuable being delivered by a first aider as from an experienced anaesthetist. If survival rates are to increase, the chain of survival - which promotes early call for assistance, early CPR and early defibrillation - can be utilised and delivered by those willing to help in the desperate time of need.”
While most of us are sleeping, Street Pastors take to the streets at 11pm when pubs are kicking-out.
They help people in city centres, who’ve had a bit too much to drink, to get home safely by handing out not only advice but water, directions and flip flops (lots of ladies take their heels off then step in glass and end up in A&E), as well as connecting people with reputable cab services. Their work hugely reduces the burden on police forces and hospitals.
Mary-Bridget Flynn-Samuels, 49, has applied her life learnt skills to the role of Street Pastor:
“Street Pastors provided the opportunity to give a practical expression to my Christian faith and my professional background is in teaching, counselling, social work and community and project development. We patrol in teams of four during the night time economy to care, listen and help. This typically involves attending to vulnerable individuals and those who are worse for wear due to the impact of drugs and alcohol. During my last patrol, I was involved in trying to bring sense to those who were engaged in violent acts. I walked a woman home who was distressed having recently being diagnosed with cancer and at the end of the evening was engaged in a long conversation with a man who wanted to take his own life due to recently having lost his relationship and his home.”