Student Volunteering Week offers all young people opportunities, says Christine Fanthome.

Volunteering is an enjoyable way of putting theory into practice and contributing to the community. Advantages include meeting people from a variety of walks of life, making new friends, working as part of a team, learning new skills, widening experience, enhancing employability prospects and achieving personal growth.  On top of this, it can be great fun!

Youth-led volunteering

In May 2004 chancellor Gordon Brown and David Blunkett, then home secretary, established the Russell Commission. This nationwide consultation initiative was charged with identifying those factors which would most successfully contribute to the appeal of voluntary work among young people. It was also concerned with developing an appropriate new volunteering framework within which young people would be able to achieve their maximum potential.

Based on responses from over 6,000 volunteers and voluntary and community sector organisations, one key finding was that if volunteering were to engage young people it needed to be more clearly youth-led. This assertion evoked agreement from 95% of young respondents. Another observation was that 52% of respondents identified volunteering with an increase in employability.

In January 2005 Gordon Brown said: ‘I believe we have a goodwill mountain just waiting to be tapped. Now is the time to turn one-off acts of generosity into lifelong giving and lifelong voluntary action. By participating in our community, we learn about the world beyond our front doors and our citizenship is stronger as a result.’

A new charity called V (, launched in May 2006, grew out of the Russell Commission’s recommendations and implemented its findings. V, which is committed to representing the youth voice throughout the course of its work, aims to recruit a million new young volunteers, and to raise £50m from the private sector to match the £50m allocated by the government.

This money will be used to create many more volunteering opportunities, give advice, develop a website and stage annual awards to celebrate volunteering achievement.

What is available?

The scope of volunteering opportunities is infinite. It is possible to choose anything from a full-time commitment to a few hours on a one-off project, and to undertake work almost anywhere in the UK or worldwide. Here are some examples, which illustrate the wide range of volunteering opportunities:

  • creating a sports team for children and helping with practices
  • mentoring asylum seekers
  • driving the elderly to the shops/appointments
  • becoming a hospice companion, reading/playing board games with patients
  • fundraising for a charity organisation
  • creating a garden or contributing to a plant survey
  • sharing a hobby with people with disabilities

‘I’ve been coaching athletics to 6- to 11-year-olds for a few years now and I don’t regret giving up a minute of my time. What started out as a chore for my Duke of Edinburgh award has quickly blossomed into a passion and along the way I have picked up not only new skills, but also lifelong memories. One of the most rewarding aspects is seeing the children improve and being able to put something back into a sport that has given me a lot. Comments such as “can’t we stay for another hour” and just plain “thank you” make it all worthwhile.’ (Claire, aged 16)

‘I volunteered to take part in a music composition workshop to help music students from schools deprived of staff and resources develop their work. The main reason I was needed was that many of the students had written music for an instrument that they did not play. However, with the volunteers’ aid a wide range of instruments was made available. We made an acoustic recording of each piece and it was worthwhile and enjoyable.’ (Aaron, aged 16)

It is also possible to undertake voluntary work overseas through specialist agencies such as VSO (see resources). Current VSO projects include Global Xchange, an exchange programme involving young people from various countries, and Youth for Development, a one-year overseas programme. Both schemes work towards a practical goal.

Becoming a volunteer

  • Think about what you would like to do, bearing in mind your personal interests, whether you can work full- or part-time, long- or short-term, and how far you are prepared to travel. Be aware that enthusiasm is often more important than specific skills.
  • If you don’t yet have an organisation in mind, browse the opportunities at your local volunteer bureau. The contact details are on the internet (see resources), or on the Community Channel, which is available on Freeview, Telewest, Sky and NTL.
  • Check out local noticeboards, for example at your community centre, library, medical centre or dentist’s surgery, and the press, especially Wednesday’s edition of The Guardian. Your school, college or university may also be able to offer assistance.
  • If you apply for a volunteer position, the next step is to meet the appropriate volunteer coordinator. This is your chance to ensure that the position is right for you, to ask questions about what is involved, and to clarify practical details such as whether or not your expenses will be reimbursed.
  • If your application is taken further, you will need to give some personal information and the names of referees. Some positions involve a police check.
  • You may be given specific training, and advice about health and safety issues.

Student Volunteering Week

Student Volunteering Week runs annually in late February – early March. Is this the incentive your students have been waiting for?

Internet resources

Dr Christine Fanthome is author of The Student Life Handbook (2005: Palgrave).

First published in Learning for Life, February 2007