From volunteering in a local hospice, to setting up exhibitions at the Oxford Story Museum and teaching IT skills to the visually impaired, volunteers are a vital part of the community in Oxfordshire. Sophie Mogridge reports

As charities and volunteers look back on the 31st National Volunteer’s week, they can celebrate the benefit they have had on each other’s lives.

Ellie Dimmock, a part-time volunteer at the Story Museum in Pembroke Street, and a part-time librarian at the Cherwell School, firmly believes that volunteering has “changed my life.”

She said: “On a personal level, I’ve gained so much more by being a volunteer than I would have by just doing a paid job.

“While it can make things hard in terms of finances, being a volunteer is more important to me.

“It’s more valuable than having some extra money here and there.”

Ms Dimmock also said working as a volunteer will be an added boost to her CV when she applies for jobs in the future.

She added: “It’ll be a great experience to talk about because I’ve met so many interesting people working at the Story Museum.

“I’ve even met some illustrators while setting up some of the exhibitions and that was amazing.

“Sometimes you get so much more than you give being a volunteer.”

While Ms Dimmock has succeeded in striking a balance between working and volunteering, the Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action (OCVA) has released statistics which suggest this is not always the case. The main umbrella organisation for the voluntary and community sector in Oxfordshire said only 40 per cent of traditional volunteers find they are able to balance employment and volunteering.

OCVA trustee Julie Baker also believes that voluntary roles are “perfectly manageable in terms of time commitment”.

Speaking of her voluntary role, she said: “OCVA board meetings are held after office hours and planned in advance.

“A couple of years ago I was working on contracts in the West Country and even then I was able to continue with OCVA as a trustee.

“I have always dovetailed volunteering roles with paid work and found them to be complementary.”

“For me, volunteering has always been a dynamic and interesting use of time and being a trustee for OCVA is big on reward, particularly as the voluntary and community sector rises to the challenges posed in the current climate.”

One charity which relies heavily on the support of volunteers in the current climate is Sobell House Hospice in Headington, which provides palliative care for patients.

The hospice currently has more than 400 volunteers, with some working at the hospice itself, others working in the in-patient unit as well as bereavement volunteers and fundraising officers.

Fundraiser Lindsay Manifold, said: “The hospice is extremely grateful that we have so many people who are prepared to give up their time, experience and enthusiasm.

“Their support is essential to the work that we do – without them we wouldn’t be able to provide all our vital services to patients and families.”

Ms Manifold added, however, that she thought a lot of people found it tricky to balance volunteering with working full-time.

She said: “It probably only works for a minority of people, who have flexible hours, work shifts, or if they can find volunteering opportunities in the evening or at the weekend.”

Speaking of a volunteer taster session in honour of Volunteers’ Week at Oxfordshire Nature Reserve office, Nicole Clark, said: “It was an excellent day and the volunteers took on the tasks of creating a good habitat for plants really well.”

“Most of our current volunteers are retired and they seem to find their roles very rewarding and gain so much from the experience.”

Oxford Mail:
Oxfordshire Association For The Blind: Mark Upton and IT trainer Guy Lawfull     

Helen Turley, retired, from Headington, took part in the taster session and said: “I’ve never volunteered before and now that I’ve tried it I’m definitely going to keep going back every week.

“You don’t realise how fulfilling volunteering can be, particularly if it is in a field you’re interested in. It felt great.”

The Oxfordshire Association of the Blind (OAB) is another charity that relies almost entirely on volunteers in order to deliver their technology service to the visually impaired.

Mark Upton, 28, the client services manager at OAB, said: “Including those who do not register, there are 10,000 people who are visually impaired in Oxfordshire.

“We fill a gap the council can’t fill and it is definitely something that needs to continue to expand because technology is a fundamental part of our world.”

Despite the quantity of people needing technological help, the OAB is currently only able to recruit two volunteers to cater to up to five clients every week.

Volunteer IT trainer, Guy Lawfull, 50, said: “It’s hard to find volunteers who not only have the skills but also can find the time.

“Most people can’t afford to have a job and volunteer at the same time and that’s where we’re really struggling to find people to come in and help.”

Mr Lawfull added: “The thing is with volunteering is that it gives you so much more than you would expect.

“Working here, we combat isolation and allow people to get in contact with people they haven’t spoken to for years.

“We give people their lives back.”

Somebody in agreement with this statement is war veteran and retired teacher, John Tobias, 93.

He said: “Because of these volunteers, I’ll be able to get in contact with friends and family who live abroad – people I haven’t spoken to for months.

“What the volunteers do is wonderful, truly wonderful.”