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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 March 2008, 09:13 GMT
Volunteering - the benefit to society
Baroness Neuberger talks to Donald Waugh who works as a volunteer on various creative and drama projects for the Homelessness Charity, Crisis
Donald Waugh is a volunteer with the homelessness charity, Crisis

Baroness Neuberger gives a personal perspective on volunteering and explains why, to her, it is so important in society today...

Volunteering has become enormously politically attractive to all the main parties.

Precisely why is unclear, though wanting us to be active citizens and do things across community boundaries is part of it.

Yet, as something which gives us a sense of ownership of "our" services, volunteering is very powerful.

Local hospitals, schools, old people's clubs, hospices or whatever, become clearly marked as ours because, instead of them being provided FOR us by others, we become part of the provision.

To add to that, volunteering benefits volunteers themselves in many ways.

Some volunteer altruistically, but others do it to gain experience or confidence, to meet other people, or to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning - a purpose in life.

Whatever their motives, it is what people do, and how they do it, that makes a difference both to them and to the people for whom they volunteer.

Empathy and affinity

Baroness Neuberger (left) with volunteer Jenny Watkin and hospital patient Sue Macauley
Baroness Neuberger (left) with volunteer Jenny Watkin and hospital patient Sue Macauley

For volunteers are often better than paid staff at providing some services, though paid staff may well need to do the organising.

One example is in cancer and other disease support.

Though professional staff can give huge amounts of information, others who have gone through similar experiences can give support in a quite different way, and are often best placed to help others to cope - as well as finding it a healing process for themselves.

There is something very powerful about a "chain" of volunteering, where people who have been ill are visited and supported by others who have recently had a similar condition.

On the last visit, they are asked to volunteer, because they can now help someone who feels as they did a few weeks earlier.

And there is clear evidence that volunteering can be a form of "cure" for some people.

Capital Volunteering

We filmed at the Skylight Café - a Crisis project providing a route into work for volunteers
We filmed at the Skylight Café - a Crisis project providing a route into work for volunteers

Capital Volunteering in London has demonstrated that people with quite serious mental health problems can improve hugely through volunteering, and can eventually enter the regular, paid, workplace.

These are some of the reasons why I am so passionate about volunteering.

But it goes deeper than that.

For others

I want to live in a society where I expect to do things for others and also expect them to do things for me.

I want a society where we recognise that the public services are OUR services, and show some ownership of them and shape their texture.

I want to see that our older people still feel useful, and our younger people feel engaged in our wider society, and I want to feel that we can bond people from disparate backgrounds, ages and communities together in a greater project, which they get engaged in for the sake of others.

Baroness Neuberger
Volunteering is a two way dialogue

Volunteering, in all sorts of ways, seems to me likely to be able to achieve some of that.

So I value it for its own sake, but also because, unlike paid work, people who volunteer do it because they want to, and get something out of it that may not be quantifiable, but which, in quality terms, adds a great deal to wider society.

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