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Whether it's to meet like-minded people, be part of a group, learn a new skill or just help in any way you can (or all of the above), charitable work can feel like a breath of fresh air. From small donations to more time-consuming volunteer commitments - no matter how much you're able to help - your investment will help the people who need it most and feel incredibly rewarding at the same time. But with so many local and national charities asking for support, it can be a little tricky to work out where to focus your attention. So here are a handful of great ways that you can give back.
Whether you are considering a small investment of your time or a large one, it is good to remember that charitable work is as important as ever - charities are entirely dependent on volunteers and donations to meet the ever-increasing demands. When looking at doing charity work, it is essential to consider your other commitments and how much time and energy you will be able to give, so that you don't end up stretching yourself too much. How will you fit it in around your everyday routine and are there any expenses you need to take into account?
Once you have thought about the logistics, it is time to identify the charity/charities you want to support. There are three common ways in which people choose which charities to help; charities that are somehow connected to personal or familial experiences as a way of giving back, charities that are completely removed from their everyday life, and charities that help to support their local community. Of course, much charitable work is done in a spontaneous fashion without much thought into the specifc project, such as bake sales and helping neighbours, but knowing and commiting to a specific charity can be a very empowering and rewarding experience.
Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community and help where you can. It is a way of helping that feels very real, because you are personally there to help and often get to see the benefits with your own eyes. Volunteering is more than just a way to help those in need of help, however, it is also a great way to meet like-minded people and make new friends.
"Volunteering is a great social activity, because it involves working with like-minded people who may well become friends."
"Volunteering gives me some 'me' time. I meet really interesting people from all walks of life. I take a pride in being good at my job and helping people in difficult situations. Some of my fellow volunteers have become really good friends."
Charity shops always need volunteers to help sort through donations, man the tills and set up displays. Often a few hours every week can make a significant difference to help non-profit organisations run - even if it is as simple as talking to customers and doing a tea run once in a while. If you're unsure which shop to volunteer for, why not approach a few in your local area and ask to speak to a volunteer. They'll be able to tell you about the management structure and the general atmosphere there.
"I was a volunteer in a well-known charity shop and quite enjoyed being part of a team again since retiring."
"My husband, a retired bookdealer, volunteered to price the books in our local Cancer Research shop."
"I volunteer in a charity shop and thoroughly enjoy it."
If you don't fancy helping in a shop, why not consider volunteering for a heritage site such as a National Trust? A great alternative to shops, volunteering at heritage sites often involves more active and outdoor work. Helping to safeguard our heritage has a particularly romantic feel to it and is perfect for those who appreciate the arts, design and architecture, gardening and landscaping - plus it is a great opportunity to learn about your local area and its history. Get involved by visiting websites and enquiring about volunteer opportunities. If possible, they will often be able to get you working in an area that matches your passions.
"We all love the house, but we also appreciate the beautiful gardens around - so before/after 'work' we can enjoy their therapeutic magic."
"I have been a volunteer as a room guide for the National Trust for over five years and recommend it as a way of meeting people, making new friends and learning so much more about our past."
"My husband and I both volunteer with the National Trust. Me as a room guide, he digs away weeding and such in 'his' garden...it's a good way to keep active and meet and make friends."
Crisis is a national charity dedicated to ending homelessness by delivering life-changing services and campaigning for change. Crisis provides support to tackle loneliness and isolation – and help people to take the first steps out of homelessness. Crisis needs volunteers in several locations across the country. They are looking for individuals who can help in any way they can, even if it is just to listen and be a friendly face - the centres are run by thousands of volunteers from all walks of life.
Whether you have yourself been ill or know someone who has - or just want to help - volunteering with hospitals, health charities and support helplines, although tough, can feel incredibly rewarding. There is something very humbling about helping one another through such difficult times and often volunteers feel that it has a lasting effect on their own lives. To find out more about volunteering with these types of organisations, such as the Motor Neurone Disease Association, you could start by enquiring with the local library, GP surgeries, hospitals, or even through the organisation's website directly. They might need to complete some checks, depending on your role, but don't be discouraged - it will be worth it in the end.
"I started work as a volunteer for the MS Society - my husband has MS. We had recently moved and didn't know anyone. Through volunteering we've made some lovely friends and now know people who understand the day to day problems we face."
"I do some volunteering work for a children's cancer charity. I want to use my time, have something to look forward to, help others and pay it forward. I can't afford to give financial support, but I can give of myself."
"I have until recently been a Samaritans listening volunteer. I have found the work rewarding and have learned a lot. I feel it has changed my life."
"I volunteer for Breast Cancer Care charity. Having had breast cancer myself, I feel that I can help people going through it now."
The Salvation Army works with the most disadvantaged people in our communities including homeless people, victims of emergencies and trafficking and those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. They are looking for volunteers who enjoy spending time with others and who would like to offer their skills to help the charity, such as making and serving food in community cafés and clubs, visiting older people who are housebound, delivering food, sleeping bags to homeless people, providing shelter as well as providing companionship to those who are lonely. You can get in touch and find out how you can help here.
"I volunteer for Beanstalk, and can thoroughly recommend it! It involves going into a primary school twice a week to spend 30 minutes with three children, reading, playing games etc. I see the same children for the whole year and it is very rewarding to see them respond, gain in confidence and improve their reading skills. The staff are very appreciative and make me feel part of the team. The local Beanstalk office give training and support. Look them up online if you're interested - they are always needing more volunteers."
"I work as a helpline volunteer, offering support to parents of crying/sleepless babies. I find it very rewarding."
"I volunteer with Homestart, helping parents with pre-school age children who need befriending. I have two families and give them two hours each a week. Very enjoyable."
By investing time and effort in local charities within your area, you are helping the entire community thrive as well as improving services that you benefit from yourself. Does the local library, archive or bookshop need a hand? Perhaps there's a cultural festival coming up that needs volunteers. There are many ways of helping your local community, and the easiest way to start is by looking at the services you use yourself and thinking 'how could I help them run better'?
"I feel that I help the community, but the rewards I get myself are that it keeps my brain functioning, I enjoy what I do and I meet interesting people."
"When our local library was faced with closure the Parish Council asked for volunteers to help keep it open."
"I volunteer because I believe that, if you can, you should, but also as a non-working mother and grandmother, it is my contribution to society and very important in giving me an insight into the lives of other people."
You could visit your Gransnet Local site site to find out more information about local charities and initiatives.
One of the amazing things about charitable work is that it has the potential to positively influence your own life as well as helping those who need support. By looking after each other within our communities we also strengthen our own support links - and often get the priviledge of gaining new perspectives on life.
"I volunteer for Stockport Care Scheme which is a charity for older people who need to be helped to socialise and meet other people similar to themselves. We run a community café in the church hall in the street where I live which is really handy. Retirement is great for a while, but I found myself feeling 'brain dead' after about a year, and volunteering is a great way of keeping oneself active whilst helping others to enjoy life."
"I volunteer with an organisation that supports people hurt by loneliness. We have a coffee and cake morning where we sit with people and chat, or let them talk, or sometimes just sit with them. By now, I'm just a member of a community where we all look out for one another."
Think to yourself, 'do I have a skill or passion that others might share'? From genealogy and history to knitting and belly dancing - whatever your interest is, teaching is a way to share your skills with the community and make friends with like-minded people at the same time. By doing something you enjoy, your volunteered time will feel like a no-brainer investment.
"It's important to do something you enjoy and which is of interest; for example, when my children were little I used to organise a story-telling session in the library on Saturday mornings."
"I 'volunteer' in the sense of doing things for my community by running a village choir, organising a village arts festival annually, setting up a community library and helping to set up a historical photo archive."
Being a puppy walker means more than just volunteering your time; helping to raise and train a guide dog is a lot of work and demands your full love and attention. You will play a vital role in the early socialisation and education of the puppy, making sure that it is socially well behaved, friendly and responsive to you. Puppy walking is a big commitment, but also a joyous way to help someone in your community. The puppy will stay with you until it is around one year old, at which point it will be transferred to a training centre to begin specialised training. There are many ways to volunteer with animals, but being a puppy walker is unique in that you get the chance to incorporate your charitable work in your own, personal life. To find out more about being a puppy walker here.
“We volunteer for guide dogs...a big commitment as we've had a pup for 12-14 months. It has been an amazing opportunity, but also challenging as there is no time off!"
If you're a whizz with the needles and enjoy spending a few hours here and there working on crafty projects, there are many charities that would love to work with you. Why not join the Knitted Knockers and help make 100% cotton knitted and crochet breast prostheses for women that have undergone a mastectomy or lumpectomy?
There are lots of great organisations that want your knits - from homeless charities to refugee centres - The Yarn Loop and Knit for Peace are both excellent sites for finding great opportunities, local, national and international.
By donating your old things rather than just disposing of them, you are not just potentially helping someone else get access to something they need, you are also helping to protect the environment by not adding to landfills. As clutter can create feelings of stress and decrease our ability to concentrate on everyday tasks, decluttering by donating old things can also make us feel better. Obviously, donations should be things you don't need - not extra expenses for you that will increase stress. Whether it is food, clothes, everyday household items or old gadgets such as phones, places like homeless shelters and foodbanks will make sure it goes to people who most need it.
Some of the things that people in financial difficulties most need are not always completely obvious. One of the most expensive everyday items for women continues to be female sanitation products, which means that there are many, many young homeless women who struggle to obtain these products. Many charities campaign for this issue, however you could also help by donating a box of female sanitary products to your local shelter.
With new foodbanks opening to meet the growing need every single week, The Trussell Trust have never been busier – or more important. Local foodbanks provide emergency food to people in crisis and many, many parents depend on this form of support to feed their children. "Between April and September 2016, Trussell Trust foodbanks across the UK distributed 519,342 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, 188,584 of these went to children."
Have you ever found old, out-of-use currency, but been unable to part with it? Here's your chance to get rid of some clutter for a very good cause - donate your old, foreign currency to raise money for The Alzheimer's Society.
Gift Aid is one of the easiest ways of making charitable donations. In short, this system allows charities to claim an extra 25% on top of every donation you make, at no extra cost to you. Gift Aid is a way of boosting your donations in a very tax efficient way - all you need to do is fill out a declaration and the charity will do the rest.
If you're retired, you may still qualify for Gift Aid if you pay tax on a private pension plan or savings account. If you are unsure whether you qualify, please check before completing a Gift Aid declaration with your charity. Click here for more information on how it works.