Making a clean sweep: Volunteering is helping people break into new careers
By Marie Jackson
They say every cloud has a silver lining and in these dark economic times, it seems it is the UK's volunteer movement that may be set to flourish.
As more and more people find themselves out of work, so the number of people taking an interest in volunteer work soars, new research shows.
Some of the UK's largest volunteering organisations, including CSV and YouthNet, have reported seeing the number of applicants rocket.
Among them are new graduates, laid-off workers in their 30s and 40s, as well as older people losing out on jobs to younger people in an increasingly competitive market.
History graduate Emily Cook struggled to find work before volunteering
Nearly 90% of volunteer centres in England - a kind of job centre for volunteers - saw an increase in inquiries over the six months to March, according to a survey by the Institute of Volunteering Research.
It also found of those centres polled, about three-quarters reported volunteers wanting the experience of volunteering to help them find a job.
YouthNet says applications have doubled in just one year to about 40,000 in February 2009 and CSV says full-time volunteers offering between four and 12 months are up 55%.
At first glance, volunteering might appear to be for the altruist.
But Volunteering England, which has published the research, is putting the spike in interest squarely down to the recession and people seeking a route back into employment.
There have been similar spikes in recent years, for example after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and, perhaps more surprisingly, following the announcement that London will host the 2012 Olympics.
But Mike Locke, director of public affairs for Volunteering England, said: "What we're seeing now is a remarkable increase."
It seems many see volunteering as a way to gain new skills, get a head-start in an highly competitive job market and make use of their time out of work.
David Sharples, from Tameside Volunteer Centre in Manchester, says there has been a marked shift in the type of applicants looking for voluntary work.
Historically, it was young people looking for experience in medicine, nursing or probation work. Now it is people in their 30s and 40s, recently made redundant often from manufacturing, looking to develop new skills or keeping their CVs up-to-date, he says.
"But for many, the number one reason is to occupy their time, keep active and keep a routine going," he added.
Out of work
Malcolm Jones, 63, from Ashton-under-Lyne, was working as an electrician until work dried up last December.
He spent weeks ringing around agencies looking for more work but with no luck.
"I was doing fine, filling in my days. Until one day, I had just finished a pile of ironing when my wife said: 'Why not try voluntary work?'"
There's no work - so I thought while I'm out of work, I may as well better myself
Will Nevitt, former roofer
Last week, Mr Jones volunteered for the first time, visiting people's homes to fit smoke detectors for free.
"The idea of volunteering is not going to appeal to everyone, it depends on your age and your inclination. But I enjoyed it very much. It's no big deal to me. I enjoy meeting other folk," he said.
Will Nevitt, a roofer since he left school at 15, was also hit by the flagging building trade.
"There's no work. So I thought while I'm out of work, I may as well better myself," said the 25-year-old from Dukinfield in Greater Manchester.
This week, he starts teaching youngsters football and other outdoor activities. It is the start of a volunteer project but he is hoping it will also be the start of a new career for him.
Emily Cook found volunteer work could lead to better things. She graduated from Sheffield University with a 2:2 in history, confident it would not be long before she found a job.
"People said: 'you will be fine', but there was absolutely nothing out there," she said.
Now 23, she has a permanent job with the National Fire Service College in Gloucestershire and puts that down to a four-month CSV volunteering project.
"My CV looked better with a bit of volunteering on it and I gained in confidence," she said.
Volunteering England says it is too early to provide figures for the actual number of people doing voluntary work since the start of the recession.
The latest Department of Communities figures show about 40% of adults in England volunteered at least once a year up to September 2008, and 26% volunteered at least once a month.