As we begin to think ahead to Volunteers Week in June, when volunteers and all things volunteering are celebrated, I have been pondering on the value of volunteers. Some people argue that expecting people to work without pay is wrong and that everyone should be paid for the work that they do. This is a good argument and it concerns me that some volunteers are exploited in these days of austerity and cut backs.
Yet with befriending volunteering, if our volunteers were paid workers the relationship between client and befriender would fundamentally change and even if we could afford to pay our befrienders – who wants someone to be paid to be their friend? I don’t think our clients would appreciate this at all.
In fact I believe that what clients value most about their befriender’s visits are that the person is choosing to give their time for free, that is to spend time with them, and is not there simply to earn a living. This is in marked contrast to other people with whom they are likely to have contact, who will be professionals such as carers.
These days many of us have less leisure time than ever, and so the time that we do have is very precious. Added to this is the vast choice of ways we have in which to spend our free time, especially for those of us who live in London. To choose to spend some of this time with a lonely, isolated person, who is not a family member, is, therefore, a real gift, and it is this that I believe is most appreciated by our clients.
Volunteers offer something unique and priceless that paid workers can never replace, hence we must continually value and treasure them and acknowledging them in some way during Volunteers Week is a great place to start.