I first started volunteering for one reason: to gain experience to secure a paid job. But I got so much more from it than that.
I was 15 when I first volunteered, which was for my local Red Cross Charity Shop. In 2009, it had become much harder to get a job that could give a teenager with no work experience some pocket money. I hoped that by volunteering on Saturday mornings in a charity shop, I would get the experience that high street shops were looking for. But I enjoyed the flexibility, the friendliness and feeling of contributing to a great cause more than I thought I could enjoy having a paid job as a shop assistant. As a teenager, my confidence was low and my anxiety high, and in reality I didn’t really want a job on top of the pressure I was already under. At the charity shop, I met people from many different walks of life and it was a refreshing break from the dramas of school. A few years later, just before I started university, I did get a job working at a small shop one day a week. It was nice to have a bit of extra cash and I wouldn’t have got the job without my experience at the Red Cross Shop.
In the summer at the end of my first year at university, I helped out at a day centre for the homeless called Catching Lives. At the time, I didn’t think much of what I was doing – they had a lot of donations and I sold some on eBay for them as a bit of extra fundraising. But this project later became an important experience to mention in job interviews. Often it’s hard to see the skills and experience you’ve gained and how to sell them. But trust me, after some practice, they become obvious.
At university, it was clear how hard it was for graduates to get their careers started and how much job experience some of my peers had. I needed to do something to firstly figure out what area of work I wanted to go into, and then gain some experience and skills towards getting there. I knew I wanted to work in the charity sector, and after some research, I found that policy and campaigns fitted my passion, skills, and degree well. I applied for a volunteer internship at Breast Cancer Campaign to try it out and was successful. I spent a month of my second year summer in this role and loved it. It eased a lot of my worries about full time work and made it clear that I could do it, and do it well.
I continued to volunteer in order to expand my experiences and meet new people. I was a volunteer receptionist at the Student Union Advice Centre in my last year of university. A year later, my first policy job was only part time so I volunteered one day a week at Guide Dogs in campaigns and public affairs. Without both of these experiences and the insights I gained, it’s unlikely that I would be in my current job at Mind as Policy and Campaigns Assistant.
Reflecting on my volunteering, I can see it has been a very significant part of my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without having volunteered. Although sometimes it felt like extra pressure, really it gave me so many skills and much more understanding of people and what I wanted to do with my life. Getting some experience through volunteering helps you to determine what you like and what you don’t, and where your skills lie. Wherever you are in your life, this is an invaluable process.