So we have all been trying to adapt to the restrictions placed on us by lockdown, and now the tortuous discussions of what we can or can’t do, with lockdown easing a bit. Over the past few weeks I have been giving some thought as to why I fill my already busy days and weeks with extra volunteering.

My day job is as a Laboratory Operations Manager of all the Clinical Research laboratories  at University Hospital Southampton. This is a busy and diverse job which can bring stresses with it along the way. But I have always enjoyed doing lots of different things in my job so, in some ways, suits me very well. Nevertheless, I love new challenges and giving my time to new and interesting endeavours, as well as meeting a wide range of people from all walks of life.

So when when my daughter came home from school about 2 years ago with a sponsored swim form from her primary school teacher for a local charity called EdUKaid, a quick google search to see what they did in order to decide my sponsorship level to give, led to exploring the website further, meeting the 1 UK employee, and signing myself up to support their social media publicity, and through this promote their work, and help to engage with corporate supporters and fundraiser groups.

But why do I do volunteer for EdUKaid?

There are so many reasons:

Because it is worthwhile – the joy on the children’s faces in the rural area of the southern tip of Tanzania in the Mikindani area, as they receive better quality education, or improved facilities and equipment in what should be every child’s birth right, but which in one of the poorest countries in the world is very challenging, is just priceless.

Because it helps me keep things in perspective – when financial budget management at work, or running around after hundreds of activities in normal times is stressing me out, I think about Tanzania (which I am immersed in virtually at least once a week, and which I hope to visit one day) and how much can be achieved with such little resource, and how much it may lead to in the future - EdUKaid works on sustainable projects to build local skills and structures run by the local Tanzanian’s.

Because I meet such great and kind people – the other adults who volunteer, or who work in the charity sector, are the nicest, and sometimes also some of the most fun people, that I know. Strangely half of our scouting volunteers also seem to work for the NHS (is this the type of people that they are, or just that it is one of the biggest employers near our area?)

So how has this all helped me during lockdown, and the current pandemic?

When the UK was put into lockdown on 23 March 2020, this caused a massive and sudden adjustment for everyone. One of the University of Southampton labs under my remit, in line with University policy, put all non-essential work on hold, and all personnel were immediately working from home. My hospital based labs switched to almost exclusively Covid-19 linked research projects of national and international importance, and at the same time switched from 5 day normal working pattern, to 12h 7 days working in 2 split teams, to ensure no one physically overlapped between teams. This was only possible with extra staff resource provided by re-deployment into our teams of other NHS staff, and University volunteers who also trained to join our team to supplement our workforce. But back to the volunteering. As my work day came almost entirely Covid focused, there was a transformation happening also within the groups I volunteer with.

I also volunteer with our local scouting group and, strangely, half of our scouting volunteers also seem to work for the NHS (is this the type of people that they are, or just that it is one of the biggest employers in our area?).

Virtual volunteering and alternative fundraising

My Edukaid activities had always been virtual, although previously they had been supplemented by an hours meeting in person each week when this had been possible. Now even with only sporadic contact by phone, text or email, or the shared scheduling tools we use, we were able to continue to motivate each other and work together. Through this work some of my family and I were also inspired to take on a #twopointsix challenge on the 26th April, which would have been the London Marathon day, to help raise money for EdUKaid, which like so many charities has lost planned income through the cancellation of so many fundraising activities and events. We cycled 26 miles within 4 hour long exercise sessions raising over £300. I learnt subsequently that our challenge also inspired some of our other friends to get on their bikes again.

So to come back to why I thought I would record these thoughts - as I come across the many tips, and tricks, that are recommended to help look after your mental health, for example see 10 tips here at least 6 of these can be directly and most clearly linked in my life to my volunteering work. There are hundreds of opportunities to volunteer; apparently every 45 seconds someone in the UK finds a volunteering opportunity thanks to Do-it.org. I have just found my opportunities as I wandered along through life, but now is the perfect opportunity to explore sites like the NCVO one above, and tap into a wonderful new venture waiting to be found.

Why volunteer when you are already busy?

I once overheard someone saying ‘they didn’t have time to help do this sort of thing’. This jarred on me. If everyone took that attitude so many good things in the world would never happen. I don’t feel ‘I have time’ I feel that I ‘make time’ but I would highly recommend it to anyone. In my view the benefits are immeasurable.