Volunteers' Week: Four stories from people helping people

From having coffee and a chat with an older neighbour, mentoring a young person navigating their education or employment decisions, to fundraising for a cause close to our hearts, millions of us volunteer whether we're always aware of it or not.

According to NCVO, 11.9 million people formally volunteered* once a month in 2016/17 - equivalent to over 1 in 5 people. Add to this the estimate that a further 1 in 4 have volunteered informally during the same period and it’s fair to conclude we have an established tradition of helping others in our country. But what are our motivations for doing so?

Over the last ten years Nesta has placed people powered approaches at the heart of our work. We want to plug the power of citizens back into places, institutions, services and democracies. Through funds including Innovation in Giving, the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund and the Connected Communities Innovation Fund, we have been lucky to back hundreds of innovations, testing and scaling compelling initiatives that have redefined the wide variety of ways in which people can give their creativity, knowledge, time and skills to address our biggest challenges.

Through the intergenerational relationships cultivated through The Cares Family to GoodGym’s community of runners who combine getting fit with physical tasks for community organisations and isolated older people, we’ve supported organisations that have championed reciprocal relationships of mutual benefit for all involved. In backing these great organisations, we have been particularly lucky to meet hundreds and thousands of volunteers making this change possible.

To celebrate Volunteers Week, we wanted to shine a light on some stories from volunteers explaining why they have gotten involved and the change they are seeking to create. Though we only have a handful here, we could have shared hundreds of others. A huge thank you to all the projects and volunteers that are demonstrating what’s possible day in, day out.

Restart: Fixing things and reducing electronic waste

The Restart Project

The Restart Project supports a nationwide network of Restart Parties, where volunteer fixers teach people how to repair their electronics that may otherwise go to waste. This people powered movement is challenging our individual relationship with electronics and awareness of how things are made, aiming for a revolution in how we design and consume our resources.

As founder of Restart Tooting, Mike has gained an outlet for his passion for technology by leading Restart parties in his local community. Through the parties, Mike is keen to show other people that they don’t have to throw away equipment just because they don’t feel they have the skills to repair them.

“I’ve been fortunate in being able to make a career out of my childhood curiosity, as a researcher and teacher in bio-medicine and medical technologies. I’ve now retired from my academic job, but still maintain an avid interest in the way technology is changing, especially how people feel pressured to continue to update their tech every few years, whether or not it’s necessary. I find that objects that should be valued, are actually perceived as temporary, dispensable items, that can easily be replaced by a better version.

We help fix, show how to fix and expel the myth that things can’t be fixed. Throwing away electronics as soon as they don’t work anymore is a mind-set that needs to be changed. And I can see from my involvement in Restart, that there are lots of community-minded people starting to change their opinions on how they view tech.”

Hundreds of Restarters host and volunteer at parties across the country. If like Mike, you are passionate about technology and waste, find your closest Restart Party at https://therestartproject.org/parties/.

Empowering Parents Empowering Communities: Parents supporting parents


Empowering Parents Empowering Communities (EPEC) is a proven method of prevention and early intervention that helps children and families get the very best start in life. Led by the Centre for Parent and Child Support at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, volunteer parent facilitators support other parents in their local communities to navigate the challenges and pressures of parenthood, with the support of well-evidence parenting strategies and methods.

Tara had been a stay-at-home mum for 20 years as a registered carer for her four sons who have a variety of medical conditions. She had been recovering for three years from a breakdown, resulting from decades of stress and exhaustion before attending the ten-week ‘Being a Parent’ course and becoming an EPEC facilitator and volunteer.

“It took so much to apply for the position. My children had grown up and I was suddenly redundant. I had lost so much confidence and felt I had not much to offer. Learning again was wonderful therapy, and helped my self-esteem increase hugely. I was initially nervous facilitating my first EPEC session but it was so uplifting hearing from my group of parents how trying EPEC strategies helped in their daily life with their families. They were seeing results and this showed in their positivity towards the group sessions.”

Tara shared that working in her own community allows her to have a deeper sense of understanding of the parents in her sessions, and they appreciate that her past experiences are relatable to their own situations. Tara’s new confidence, led her to apply for a job.

“I think EPEC helped me back onto a pathway. I plucked up the courage to attend an interview for an invigilator position at a local senior school and got the job.”

To find out more about how you can become a Parent Group Leader, further details are included in the EPEC handbook.

in2Science: Sharing a passion for STEM to inspire and support the next generation

in2Science Volunteers and Students

The in2scienceUK programme mobilises a volunteer network of passionate STEM professionals who are keen to share their expertise and experience to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds progress into the sector. Through insightful work placements alongside volunteer STEM professionals, as well as an intensive set of skills days and workshops, in2ScienceUK increases the exposure of students to the world of science, technology, engineering and maths, helping them to achieve their potential and progress to STEM degrees and careers.

Tom is a post-doctorate at Imperial College in the department of Earth Science & Engineering who volunteers for in2Science.

“It is very important to give students the chance to have a positive experience of STEM. It is great to connect with locals and meet young people that are actually from the area. In the future, these pupils could become my colleagues and lead the way in innovation.”

Tom has benefited personally from his involvement with the programme too.

“From a CV perspective, I’ve gained mentoring skills and learnt how to do public outreach. It’s also given me the chance to put into action the values I support, like equal opportunities…. in2Science UK gave me the chance to network with other scientists who are hosting the programme at my work. I’ve found meeting them as useful as the pupils!”

Work in STEM and keen to host a student for a one-two week summer work placement? Find out how at: http://in2scienceuk.org/scientists/

Compassionate Neighbours: Volunteers offering friendship and a listening ear at the end of life

Compassionate Neighbours is a social movement founded by St Joseph’s Hospice in 2014 to help reduce loneliness and social isolation for people that are near end of life. Trained neighbours offer friendship and a listening ear to people living in their community.

Compassionate Neighbour, Lucia, provided some much needed company during an isolating period of Agnes’ life:

“I’ve really enjoyed...making a difference to someone’s life and it has made me refer others to the Compassionate Neighbours project. I’ve seen the change in Agnes, she has become more confident, independent and she’s much happier now and enjoying life. I’ve been watching her on her journey, and as she’s moved home, she has become more empowered and has now re-connected to her community. She has been out on her own and is always involved in any of the events where she lives - she is sometimes the first one in the communal lounge. Getting involved has also opened my eyes to the world of the hospice...I used to go past on the bus and now know that it is a place that’s alive and about life - not death. I’m really pleased I volunteered for the Compassionate Neighbours project.”

Find out more about how you can get involved at https://www.stjh.org.uk/neighbours.

*Formal volunteering means giving unpaid help through a group, club or organisation.


Khyati Modgil

Khyati Modgil

Khyati Modgil

Programme Manager, Government Innovation

Khyati was a Programme Manager in Nesta's Government and Community Innovation team. She is interested in democracy. civic participation and nurturing inclusive organisational cultures.

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