Volunteers are the backbone of most charities and many organisations. Every year thousands of people in Kirklees give their time and talents freely to all manner of projects and roles.
And, it would appear, that volunteering is becoming ever more popular. Figures from Volunteering Kirklees show that in 2012/13 there were 4,200 enquiries about volunteer positions, but in the last 12 months there have been nearly 4,700. As Sharron Wilkinson, Volunteer Services Manager for Volunteering Kirklees, points out: “People volunteer for lots of different reasons - young people might want something for their CV, but we get people up to 70 or 80 plus who just want to be useful and give something back. Other people see it as a stepping stone to employment or a way to build themselves back up to work after being ill.
“It’s a two-way process, with the organisations benefitting and the volunteers themselves gaining valuable practical experience and skills.”
Volunteering Kirklees, which moved last year to new premises on Upperhead Row (next door to the bus station) is currently offering around 450 volunteering opportunities within 260 different organisations.
Opportunities range from individual mentoring and working in charity shops to fund-raising, driving or becoming a school governor. Understandably, some roles are easier to fill than others, but its the job of Sharron and her staff to match-make volunteers to opportunities.
“The most popular opportunities tend to be working in a mentoring role with people like prisoners or offenders,” explained Sharron. “Working on social media and in IT are also popular. The most difficult to fill are trustee posts and school governors - behind the scenes work. Locally, many schools are desperate for governors.”
Sharron describes working with volunteers as “humbling” and says many have inspiring stories to tell. Hers is a job that focuses on the positives in society. “People still want to be part of a community and have that sense of belonging,” she says, “so they volunteer at different times in their lives for different reasons. They might start volunteering while young to get work experience but then when they have their own children they will get involved with the local school and then when they retire they look for something else. Volunteering can be a social outlet for them.”
She believes that the recession is partly responsible for the growth in volunteering demand among young people. There are more volunteers in the 18 to 25 age group than any other. “Even young people with degrees need to get work experience and some volunteering opportunities offer the chance to get a qualification as well,” said Sharron.
Volunteering Kirklees has a drop-in policy and is open Monday to Thursday. For details call 01484 519053 or check out www.voluntaryactionkirklees.org
A charity that helps families with disabled or sick children and founded by one of the country’s leading philanthropists, businessman John Caudwell, has arrived in Kirklees and is looking for volunteers.
Caudwell Children provides support, equipment, therapy and information and aims to plug the gap in local services, acting as a safety net for those who have been unable to find help from any other provider.
In Yorkshire and Humberside, the service is being co-ordinated by Huddersfield resident Karen Askham, who says that Government funding cuts are affecting some of the most vulnerable families in the region.
Karen, who lives in Birkby and was formerly operations manager for the Calderdale Parents and Carers Council, wants to hear from those in need, as well as those prepared to give their spare time to work with families.
Although Caudwell Children, founded in 2000, is now working all over the country, until recently it remained little known outside the West Midlands, where it began. But Karen believes it won’t be long before the name becomes familiar to us all.
“To be honest, I’d never heard of it,” she said, “but it’s now a national charity.
“The families we come across are really struggling and are not able to access services, sometimes because they are not eligible or they haven’t got a diagnosis for their child or they don’t know what’s out there. The most common thing is that parents are told their child has a certain condition and then are left to get on with it. I cover the whole of the region and this is what I’m hearing from all over.”
John Caudwell, who was the entrepreneur behind Phones4U, is on the UK’s top 20 richest list and has pledged to give away half his fortune before his death. He personally funds the management and running costs of Caudwell Children so that all the money donated to the charity goes on services.
Caudwell Children has a network of co-ordinators and family support volunteers who provide bespoke packages of assistance.
Savannah Woods, 21, is in her third year of a BSc in Psychology at the University of Huddersfield and wants to become an educational psychologist. She is a Caudwell volunteer, spending time every week with two families. One family has a five-year-old boy with non-verbal autism; while the second has an 11-year-old girl with Pathological Demand Avoidance. Savannah says she is an extra pair of hands in the households and will play with the children or accompany the families on trips out of the home. “They are really thankful for the help I can give them,” said Savannah. “I’m hoping to work with children so it’s useful experience for me and I have found my studies useful when I’m with the families.”
At present Caudwell Children is assisting seven Kirklees families and has six volunteers in the area but Karen would like to extend this. For more information call 07972 688019 or look at www.caudwellchildren.com