The Joy of Christmas Shopping

It’s that time of year again, when, for most of us, love it or hate it, Christmas shopping beckons with all those things we need to buy to ensure we and our loved ones have a perfect Christmas. It can feel like a real chore. Especially when the weather is cold, dark and wet and perhaps we are feeling tired and have low energy as the year draws to a close.

But imagine how it would be if you couldn’t get out to the shops to get the things that you need, and you didn’t have a clue how to do online shopping and you didn’t have a computer or internet connection anyway. On top of that you keep hearing all the time – on the tv, the radio, in the newspapers about Christmas, what other people are doing and the preparations they are making. Perhaps you haven’t even got anyone to buy a present for anyway and you are going to be spending Christmas day quite alone, like most of your other days.  On top of that you can’t do very much except watch tv which is telling you constantly about the big event that you will be missing out on.

This is how life is for many of our lonely and isolated clients, and together with cold and dark days it can mean that this time of year is even more difficult than usual.

If you think about it then, your extra shopping for Christmas is not such a big deal. And aren’t you lucky being able to go out and about, as and when you please, without giving it a second thought? How about making a positive difference to the life of someone who doesn’t have this luxury by volunteering with Volunteer Link? You would be spending up to two hours per week with someone who is lonely and isolated and has few visitors. Our volunteers can be lifelines for our clients.


Our next Volunteers Induction training is on Wednesday 16th January, 9.30 am to 3 pm at a venue in Hanwell. Please contact the Volunteer Coordinator on volunteering@volunteerlink.org.uk for more details.

Volunteering can be Personal Development

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One of the ways in which Volunteer Link promotes its volunteering opportunities is as a form of personal development, and this month I have taken some time to look at what exactly we mean by this well used term. When I google the words ‘personal development’ Wikipedia comes up with the following:-

Personal development covers activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital and facilitate employability, enhance the quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations.

Wow, personal development sounds pretty good. Wouldn’t we all want these things? Can volunteering with Volunteer Link really be described as personal development though? Let’s take a closer look.

Does befriending volunteering improve our awareness and identity? I think so. We are certainly going to have a lot more awareness of what the issues are for lonely and isolated people when we start to spend time with them. It can also improve our identity, because as we get to know another person we become more connected with our own identity.

Develop talents and potential –  volunteers are developing their talent of befriending all the time and thus expanding their potential.

Building human capital, our volunteers are certainly doing that as they voluntarily support and give to another, and facilitate employability – it is well documented that volunteering experience can be as relevant as work experience in the eyes of employers.

Finally, enhance the quality of life. It is known that giving to others is one of the things that gives us the greatest happiness and in giving to others through volunteering, volunteers have the satisfaction of knowing that they are helping others, hence enhancing the quality of their own lives at the same time.  

Finally, contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations, this might sound lofty and out of reach but our lives tend to be made up of many small actions and experiences that combine to make the whole. What kind of life do we ultimately want to lead? If it’s one where serving others has a place, then this can contribute to realizing our dreams and what we aspire to be.

I think it’s true to say, therefore, that volunteering can be a form of personal growth. So if you want some of the things that go with this – improvement of awareness and identity, to build human capital and improve your employability, enhance your quality of life, build talent and potential and realise your dreams and aspirations, hence a personal growth opportunity – please consider volunteer befriending with Volunteer Link.

Our next Volunteers Induction training courses will take place on Wednesday 16th January 2019. Email volunteering@volunteerlink.org.uk for more information.

The Happiness Effect of Volunteering

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Our volunteers often say how much they enjoy their volunteering and that they get a lot from their weekly visits, but did you know that it’s official that people who volunteer are happier than those who don’t?

Many studies have demonstrated that volunteering kindles happiness. When researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were, according to a study in Social Science and Medicine. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks.

Having good and positive relationships is another key source of happiness for most people and one of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to commit to a shared activity together. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, especially if you are new to an area. It strengthens your ties to the community and broadens your support network, exposing you to people with common interests, neighbourhood resources, and fun and fulfilling activities.

Volunteering can also boost your social skills which can help you to interact more effectively with others, again potentially increasing your happiness. While some people are naturally outgoing, others are shy and have a hard time meeting new people. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, since you are meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests. Once you have momentum, it’s easier to branch out and make more friends and contacts.

It’s official, therefore, people who volunteer are happier than those that don’t.

We are taking a break from volunteer induction training over the Summer but have training courses coming up in September and October. Email us now if you would like to find out more at volunteering@volunteerlink.org.uk. It’s time to get happy!

 

Two Men and a Dog

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This month we hear from David, who has recently started volunteering with us:-

I had been volunteering for 4 years with the Dogs Trust at their north London rehoming centre, which involved a few hours at the weekend walking dogs.  Because of changes in the volunteer set up at the Dogs Trust I was not able to continue there and I wanted to find another type of volunteering. I wanted something which was easy to travel to, did not take up too many hours per week, which I could do in the early evenings (as I cannot commit during the day because of my job) and a cause that I felt strongly about. After a little searching I found The Volunteer Link Scheme which seemed to tick all these boxes.

It’s hard to find out about how a charity operates if you’re “on the outside”, and where to volunteer is an important decision when you are giving up free time and you want it to be right. Having said that, the organisation and set up of the Volunteer Link Scheme was reassuring from my first contact.

I went in for an initial chat at their office with Bridget which was professional and friendly and I passed the initial interview! And so on to the next step, the training which consisted of a half day session on a Saturday – I was glad they did a weekend session as otherwise I would have needed to take time off work. My initial thought was that a half day session seemed a little on the long side for training, but actually there is a lot of important and interesting material to cover and so the time went quickly.

Various key topic areas were covered and a consistent focus is the difference between being a friend and a befriender. Understanding the differences, and their implications is vital in order to make a success of the befriender volunteering.  

Around this time the Christmas volunteer meet up took place and I got the chance to meet dozens of other volunteers. There are more of these events planned for 2018.

The final stage is that the Befriending Coordinators carefully consider your profile and that of the clients and make an informed match between the two.

Funnily enough, the gentleman that I visit has a dog which was one of the reasons that made the match a good one for us. I visit him every two weeks. It does take a little while to hit it off, as you would expect. We’re now both well into the swing of our visits and it’s good to see him and his dog. We have our “visit routine” and the visits are enjoyable for both of us.

I’d thoroughly recommend the Volunteer Link Scheme. It’s a great cause and the team is really well organised. I guess it comes as no surprise to any Londoner reading this post that there is an ongoing demand for new volunteers because we have new clients all the time in need of befrienders. So go for it and reach out and get in touch.

 

Loneliness Adversely Affects Mental Health

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There have been a number of articles in the media recently about older people and loneliness. Age UK says that 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely and that this has an adverse impact on mental health, and the challenge will increase as our population ages. Caroline Abrahams, Age UK charity director says: “Loneliness can have an impact on older people’s health and wellbeing. And this is particularly true when it comes to mental health, with older people’s depression often brought on by, or exacerbated by loneliness.”

The spotlight on older people initiative – a group of nine older people’s organisations led by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness – says that more than half the users of over-50s social networking site Gransnet, who say they are lonely, have never discussed loneliness with anyone.

Added to this, according to Age UK in the next 20 years, England’s over-85 population is set to rise from nearly 1.3 million people to just under 2.8 million.

A weekly phone call or visit from a volunteer are among the solutions to help ease the loneliness epidemic according to campaigners and this is where Volunteer Link can play a vital role.  

Volunteer Link operates and supports people who live in the the London borough of Ealing.

Volunteers are linked with lonely and isolated clients and they visit on a regular basis to provide  companionship and support. The Scheme provides an excellent way to break the loneliness cycle that so many older people experience.  

Our own research backs up more formal studies. The Volunteer Link 2016 Client Survey showed that after receiving regular visits from one of our volunteers 79% said that they felt less lonely and 58% reported feeling happier. One of our clients described the difference before and after being visited by a volunteer as ‘I was so down, lonely and isolated, (I now) feel less depressed’.

The findings of recent studies and the fact that  the numbers of older people are steadily increasing means that Volunteer Link volunteers are needed more than ever. By giving just a couple of hours of their time each week a volunteer can make a huge positive difference to the life of a lonely older person, increasing their chances of avoiding depression and leading a happier life.

Summer: A time to rethink priorities

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Holidays, sunny weather, quality time spent with family and friends, barbecues and picnics, days that seem to go on forever – this is the stuff that Summer is made of and some of the things that we love about this time of year. It can be a great opportunity to perhaps take things a bit more easy,   recharge our batteries and take a holiday.  Holidays can be a time to dream and plan for the future, to think through our priorities and re-establish what’s important to us, what our values are and how we, consequently, spend our time.

We have more choices of how to utilise our spare time than ever before, yet, when we think hard about it, most of us  still feel it’s important  to dedicate some  time and energy to helping others, to ‘give back’ and support those in society who are less fortunate than ourselves.

If you can identify with this, perhaps you would consider volunteering, a great and practical way to proactively support others in your community. Volunteer Link is a befriending service  in Ealing whereby trained volunteers are individually linked to isolated and vulnerable people  in their local community to provide friendship and support on a regular basis . Our volunteers give up just a couple of hours a week to volunteer, yet make a significant positive impact on the lives of those they support. Clients say that their visits greatly enhance the quality of their lives and volunteers say that it’s very satisfying to know the positive difference they are making.

We are planning to do two one day training courses for new volunteers during the day on 16th August and 7th September. If you would like to train to be a volunteer with us and are free on one of these days please contact us at Volunteer Link by emailing Bridget Morris on bridget@volunteerlink.org.uk or ringing on 020-8434-3635. It would be great to have you onboard and we hope you enjoy the rest of the Summer.

Volunteering is a Learning Experience

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Here at Volunteer Link we have had quite a bit of interest in volunteering recently and this has meant that we have already held one new volunteers training day, with another planned for the end of February.  When promoting our volunteering I am focusing on how people can benefit personally and it struck me that learning is a great outcome. I recently quoted to a local university volunteering department:-

Prospective volunteers are eligible for our initial one day volunteer training course which means they meet other volunteers and have the opportunity to learn in a supportive, friendly environment. They learn how to listen, build rapport and create positive relationships, as well as softer skills such as record keeping, boundaries and accountability.

In addition to learning from trainers volunteers also learn from each other. We are lucky enough to have very experienced and interesting people coming forward to volunteer and they are making positive contributions to their training groups.

Volunteers also continually learn as they volunteer, including about the person whom they are befriending and their life, their struggles and ups and downs as well as about carrying out their role in an appropriate and professional way. As volunteers discuss with us at the Volunteer Link office issues that have arisen for their clients they discover what solutions may or may not be available.

We learn throughout our lives one way or another and there is nothing like ‘learning by doing’. Everyone who volunteers is getting something out of it one way or another, and I believe that learning about other people’s lives as well as how to carry out a volunteer role effectively can be very beneficial.


Starting Volunteering is a great way to begin the New Year

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The festive season is over and we are now into 2017 with all the possibilities of a new year ahead. January can be a difficult month for many of us with the festivities over, short days and long dark nights, and the prospect of warmer weather still some way off.

It can also be a great time for new beginnings and adventures, however, and a great time to take on new challenges. Many of us make New Year resolutions to do something new, and perhaps to help someone else. What better time, therefore, to help an older person in your local community who is lonely and isolated? Volunteer Link is a small charity and we recruit and train local volunteers to befriend lonely and isolated older people within the borough of Ealing. We link volunteers with clients whom they have things in common with and deep friendships are often forged. Some clients enjoy crafts such as knitting or games such as chess and where possible we link them with volunteers who have similar interests.

All new volunteers undergo an initial one day training course with us, and there are further courses and development opportunities available. We also hold social events throughout the year where volunteers can meet each other.

Our current volunteers tend to enjoy their volunteering and are enthusiastic about it. One of our volunteers Robin, says of her volunteering ‘I’m a volunteer befriender, however I have gained an incredible friendship along with being gifted life lessons through a different lens’.

Volunteering can also be a development opportunity, enhancing caring, listening and rapport building skills.

Due to an increase in demand for our service we are currently recruiting volunteers and we will be holding a training course soon.

So if you live in the London borough of Ealing and are thinking about what you want to achieve in 2017 please consider helping a vulnerable person in your local community by becoming a befriender with Volunteer Link. This could be hugely rewarding for you and life changing for the person whom you befriend.

For an informal discussion about volunteering or if you wish to apply please contact me, Bridget Morris on 020-8434-3635 or email at bridget@volunteerlink.org.uk