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Extreme volunteering is not what you might think. It doesn’t involve jumping out of planes (like extreme sports) or eating unbelievably spicy habanero peppers (like extreme food). 

Extreme volunteering is about regular people going beyond the usual levels of volunteering. It is a deeper and more intensive form of volunteering, and I predict we will see more of these amazing commitments of ‘people helping people’ in the years to come.

Let me give you a few early examples of what we are already starting to see in the UK:

  • Giving a whole year of your life in service of kids. That’s what City Year volunteers do - Young people (18-25) dedicate a year, full-time, before university or work to support head teachers in turning around the behaviour and academics of some of the most underprivileged UK schools.
  • Giving a stranger a place to live and making them part of your family. That’s what Shared Lives Plus carers do. They ‘adopt’ an older person or a person with learning disabilities and offer them a place in their family. So instead of institutional care, families provide the full-time care – much like a ‘fostering for adults’ programme. Can you imagine inviting someone to come and live with you?

Why now?

Well, from what I have seen there are two main contributing factors. First, but not most important, is that we are living in an age of austerity.  Government budgets are tight and so, rather than assuming the state will step in or that we can buy a solution, we’re thinking about helping our neighbours more – from foodbanks to Streetbank.   

More importantly, there are some things that volunteers are just better suited to do.  It doesn’t make sense to have paid hospital staff waiting for someone to wake up from surgery. But waking up from surgery alone can make the experience of hospital very isolating and unpleasant. What if, instead, a volunteer was waiting at your bedside when you woke up to reassure you? Well, this is just what King’s College Hospital Volunteers are doing (with a volunteer commitment of more than 20 hours per month for a year).

So what…

Many of us volunteer already, but in 2014 I predict (and hope) that we’ll see not just more volunteers but more extreme volunteers giving a significant part of their week in the service of others. Maybe young people will no longer have a “gap year” and instead they will have a 'give back year'.

Extreme volunteering will become the norm and we will live in a better world as a result.