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Have you ever thought about volunteering?

Undoubtedly 2012 has been a great year for volunteering in the UK. The London 2012 Olympics could not have happened without the help of around 70, 000 Games Makers and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee saw the whole nation come together to celebrate, with thousands of community events benefiting from volunteers giving their time.

Every year over 20 million people across the UK volunteer, donating more than 100 million hours of their time every week to their local communities. Many services that we take for granted simply could not operate without the support of volunteers, including the NHS, the Coastguard Rescue Service, the judiciary and the police.

But volunteering has an even greater value to our society than just ensuring our services run smoothly and community and national events are successful. There are millions of unsung heroes and good neighbours helping others, often in ways that they would not consider as volunteering. These people play a major role in supporting the most vulnerable and isolated in society, but equally they help to bring together communities to make Britain a better place to live and work.

There are a number of reasons why people give their time and skills for volunteering. For some, it can be a path to employment, for others a way of meeting new people or trying something different. Volunteering can help boost confidence, develop skills and give a sense of being valued. Most importantly, it’s open to everyone.

A good place to start looking for volunteering opportunities is your local Council for Voluntary Service. They can listen to what you are interested in doing and the skills you have, then match you with suitable charities or organisations in your area that are looking for help. NAVCA (National Association for Voluntary and Community Action) lists member organisations working in your local area that can help you.

Similarly public libraries are a great place to look; most will have a noticeboard or a file of information on local volunteering opportunities. There are also a number of resources online, including Essex County Council’s ‘Good for Essex’ website, which contains a searchable database of opportunities all over the county. Visit www. goodforessex.org

Other websites worth taking a look at are:

www.do-it.org.uk

An online database that contains over 1, 000, 000 opportunities nationwide

www.reachskills.org.uk

A charity that recruits people from all backgrounds with specific business, technical, managerial or professional career experience and matches them with voluntary organisations that need their expertise

www.vinspired.com

Advice on opportunities for young people aged 16-25

www.csv-rsvp.org.uk