The Prime Minister’s Big Society of the future is already alive and well in Huddersfield. From fund-raising and befriending the lonely to serving meals on wheels, thousands of volunteers a year are involved with charitable projects. HILARIE STELFOX talked to just a handful of the many who give of their time to others
VOLUNTEERING appeals to different people for many different reasons. Some want to hand something back to society; others need to feel useful or fill their time productively.
For a growing number, including those made redundant or unemployed, volunteering enhances a CV or offers a way to gain valuable work experience
But having acquired the volunteer habit, many find they don’t want to give it up.
“National research has shown that once you have volunteered you will do it again, even if it is years later,” says Sharron Wilkinson, outreach and development worker for the Kirklees Volunteer Centre.
With between 50 and 60 enquiries a week, the centre in Lord Street (following funding cuts now open only on Tuesday and Wednesday) matches volunteers with organisations.
“A lot of people do still think that volunteering is all about working in a charity shop but there is so much more,” said Sharron.
“Mentoring schemes are very popular,” she added, “also projects such as working with the victims of crime. A lot of people want to help others and give something back.”
The volunteer centre also assists new charities and organisations to meet the increasingly complex legal requirements of the Charities Commission.
“If your aims are charitable and you have raised £5,000 then you need to register with the commission,” says development worker Elaine Peaker.
“Everything is more regulated now, to prevent fraud and bad practice, which is a good thing, but it can be tricky for organisations to sort out.”
As many as 2,500 would-be volunteers a year find their way to the centre but the total number of volunteers in Huddersfield is much higher.
“We also have an internet site that people can look at and some charities run their own volunteering recruitment,” explained Sharron.
Until earlier this year the centre had a Vinvolved scheme for young people between the ages of 16 and 18.
“Unfortunately, funding for this was lost and there is now a huge gap. We know there are teenagers who want to volunteer but we can no longer help them,” she added. “A lot of voluntary groups and charities are in a sticky situation at the moment, even ourselves,” said Sharron.
“But we have managed to hang on and we are looking to develop social media to promote one-off opportunities. We are also recruiting mentors to support people who want to volunteer but need help.”
The Volunteer Centre can also be contacted on 01484 226608.
HAND TO MOUTH Puppet Ministries offers volunteer opportunities for those sympathetic to the Christian faith.
It is an unusual venture, taking religious instruction into primary schools through the use of puppet theatre and puppet-making workshops.
Founded by Barbara Dixon and Margaret Redfearn 14 years ago and based in Bradley, the organisation takes its Christian message to 25,000 children each school term. It has two paid staff and a team of 150 volunteers who help with project work in schools.
Veronica May, however, volunteers as a administrator in the Ministries busy office. She is a full-time carer for her husband, who has a neurological condition, and sees her voluntary work as a form of respite from the responsibility of caring 24/7.
“It gives me some normality in my life,” she says. “I feel that I am part of a team and it gives me some self worth. I’m not just a housewife.”
For four hours a week she answers telephone enquiries and deals with paperwork.
Veronica, who lives in Golcar, moved to the Huddersfield area from Hampshire to be nearer to family. “I had always done voluntary work and was looking for a Christian-based voluntary job to feel that I was giving something back,” she explained.
All Ministries volunteers working with children must be Criminal Records Bureau checked.
For volunteering opportunities contact Barbara Dixon on 01484 315600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR bereaved mother Beverley O’Toole, volunteering with the newly-formed Holme Valley Gardening Network has proved to be an effective form of therapy.
The Holmfirth Co-operative assistant lost her 18-year-old son Adam, victim of a hit-and-run driver, back in 2007. It took three long, grief-stricken years to bring the perpetrator to justice.
Beverley began allotment gardening after moving next door to one of the Network’s organisers, Helen Scott.
“I started helping out on a Sunday because I found some days very hard since losing Adam and it gives me a purpose,” said Beverley. “It gets me out, keeps me physically and mentally fit and I get friendship out of it as well.”
The Network was the brainchild of Helen and a friend Elaine Thelier, who gardened together on an allotment at Royds Avenue, New Mill.
They wanted to encourage local people to grow their own vegetables. “We organised a public meeting at a cafe in Holmfirth and were amazed by the response,” said Helen, who is a community cook.
The Wooldale Co-operative offered a two-acre plot of land for the Network to cultivate and Kirklees Volunteer Centre helped to draw up a constitution.
Today the site has 22 allotment plots, three of which have been set aside for community gardening. The organisation has accessed funding to create raised beds for people with mobility issues. Volunteers have also planted an edible woodland of fruit trees.
For two days a week Helen also runs structured gardening sessions for the over 50s, people with learning difficulties and mental health problems.
For further details contact Helen on 075 34928102 or at www.holmevalleygardeningnetwork.org.uk
ANNETTE Etherington was recruited to the newly-formed Dial Wood Carriage Driving for the Disabled charity in Flockton because of her lifetime’s experience working with horses.
A former employee of the National Mining Museum, where she was responsible for the welfare of the pit ponies, Annette has also been a horse owner for most of her adult life.
She and her daughter, riding instructor Michelle Etherington, currently keep 10 horses at her home in Grange Moor.
Annette became a Dial Wood volunteer, helping with the promotion of the organisation and assisting at events, after taking early retirement from the mining museum.
“I didn’t want to work directly with the horses because we have so many of our own,” she said. “But I wanted to be involved. It brings so much pleasure to the disabled people who come along to sessions.”
Dial Wood was founded by Audrey Honeyman with the aim of creating an exciting activity that people with different levels of disability could enjoy.
“Some enjoy actually taking the reins, while others just like going for a drive. There are also people who come along to groom and stroke the horses,” explained Annette.
Volunteers are needed to help care for the horses as well as work with the disabled. Audrey says the opportunities suit people who enjoy being out of doors and have an affinity with animals. Training is given.
All volunteers are CRB checked. For details call Audrey on 01924 849368 or contact email@example.com