Volunteer Week 2021
VTL Chris Edge | Why I Volunteer
What is your experience of being a volunteer?
I’ve always been involved with volunteering in some form or another. Whether that be as a young volunteer for school events, in my local community on a litter pick or through sport. I’ve always believed it to be my civic duty to give time to what I feel is a worthy cause.
I started volunteering at a young age whilst I was at school and this carried on into University where I was part of the management team for the University Canoe Club. Looking back this was quite an important thing to do as it allowed me to gain tangible experience in the sports club industry. I learnt what it takes to run a small sports club and help to plan sessions for club members, which then led me to end up becoming a coach as well.
Overall though, most of my volunteer career has been spent in various roles within the Sea Cadets – locally, regionally and nationally – too many to mention really! Currently I am the Commanding Officer of a very active river based Unit on the Thames in Maidenhead, where we have around 40 cadets and 11 instructional volunteers delivering the Sea Cadet Experience, by giving young people the best possible head start in life through nautical adventure and fun.
I have been involved with Sea Cadets since I was 10 years old, but as an adult volunteer for a combined total of 19 years.
Aside from Sea Cadets, I also volunteer small amounts of time at our local church and community centre on a micro level. This has been delivering events such as ‘Man Sunday’ (celebrating Fathers’ Day), the packing away teams, helping deliver meals or gifts to those in need - but more recently, helping to support the centre in reopening for the children’s services to take place face to face.
Finally, I am in the process of mentoring 5 people on their pathway to becoming canoe and kayak instructors. This is something that happens sporadically throughout a normal year but never as many in one go – but it’s ok as you get to go out on the water which allows me to stay active and healthy!
How did you start volunteering?
Having been involved with uniformed youth organisations and church youth groups from a young age, I was always taught the value of helping others. This ultimately empowered me to always sign up for local community events with the groups, or things that were happening at school where they may need help.
I would be hard pressed to remember my exact first volunteering experience, although one of my earliest volunteering memories was when we had a school open evening. I started off helping to demonstrate something we had learned in our science class, yet by the time I left school I was part of the young enterprise group coordinating where the students would be volunteering on school events.
Being a young volunteer was really important to me. It became something I went on to support professionally, when I was employed to help deliver national youth volunteering schemes such as Youth Parliaments, Millennium Volunteers, ViVinvolved and YouthBank.
As an adult, it felt really natural to give back to the same type of organisations that had a hand in helping to shape the person I have become, or with some of the skills I had been taught; hence why I became volunteer in the Sea Cadets and also a Canoe and Kayak Coach.
What impact has volunteering had on you?
Volunteering has increased me self-confidence. I am doing good for others and the community, which for me, provides a natural sense of accomplishment. My role as a volunteer gives me a sense of pride and identity.
When it came to applying for jobs all of my volunteering has enabled me to show real demonstrable experience and references from within an industry linked to youth work, sports club development and managing volunteers - all of which proved invaluable.
I’d also had a glimpse into a few different worlds I loved and could confidently say ‘this is the right place for me’.
Some of the opportunities I have had access to like spending a week at Sea or being part of an International Exchange in Canada have been life changing.
Being able to volunteer really grounds me.
What’s the best thing about volunteering?
There are so many things that I could say here!
However for me though, it is simply seeing that difference you are making to someone else’s life or an organisational cause. I thrive on seeing young people develop as a result of a new skill or life lesson you have been part of delivering, and just seeing lots of people laugh and smile as a result of being involved in something you have helped to make happen is just wonderful!
Through volunteering I have been able to meet so many likeminded people that have become friends right around the world, where we have been on a similar journey in learning new skills and being part of the same cause.
If you were going to encourage someone else to volunteer, what would you say?
I’ve been lucky enough to find my place within a fantastic charity that supports the development of young people, as well as being in a community where there is a lot on offer to get involved with.
I have however, also ended up in volunteering roles with groups and people that just were not right for me, nor me for the organisation. This happens and that’s ok.
So it is important that you are part of something you enjoy and what has the right role for you!!
For some that can be the first thing you see or enquire about, but for others it could mean having to try a few different organisations or roles to find something that you really settle on.
Volunteering should be easy and enjoyable, not unhappy and burdensome!
I am a firm believer that there is a volunteer role for everybody - there will be a placement out there just waiting for you to get involved - so do not give up if you do not experience that straight away!