How volunteering helps us learn

14 June 2016

As Volunteers Week draws to a close Ruth Marks, director of the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, reflects on how volunteering and learning are closely linked.

There are so many different ways to learn and develop new skills – formal learning, training, shadowing and also by volunteering.

Volunteers Week 2016 provided a great opportunity to reflect how giving time freely can reap amazing rewards.

During he week I met people who had learnt new skills that in turn helped their communities as well as helped themselves.

Wales is a country of volunteers – our research has indicated that nearly 1million people regularly volunteer.  That’s one in three of us across Wales; people of all ages getting involved in causes that are dear to their hearts and benefitting from their experience.   

I have heard older volunteers talk about the friendship and company they relish from the time they give to charities.  Many younger people are empowered by the opportunities that volunteering presents them.  Intergenerational links also feature when older people share their skills and experiences and younger people volunteer alongside or support those older than themselves.

One aspect that is always humbling, is that many volunteers do not look for thanks or praise. When volunteers are acknowledged they are the first to state that they do not operate alone and that they are part of a team.  This of course is another aspect of learning that is invaluable – the development of team working skills.  None of us achieve in isolation and volunteering as part of a group or organisation creates multiple benefits.

Some years ago, WCVA worked with the Welsh Language Commissioner to research issues around volunteering and the language.  Being able to practice in a volunteering role makes both English and Welsh speakers more self confident in sharing a few words of greeting and creates cross-cultural links.

Many Third Sector organisations provide extensive training to volunteers and this can enhance essential job skills and support people who are keen to improve their employment or development prospects.

Volunteering enables us to learn in so many different environments, those that are familiar to us and by opening up completely new experiences.  Some of the most inspiring examples were celebrated at our Volunteer of the Year Awards.

One winner said:  “Volunteering is not me just giving of myself, it gives back to me. I have support, empathy, understanding, purpose, friends, a new social life, confidence, self-esteem, pride, new skills, fun, laughter and so much more.”

Reflecting on Volunteers Week reinforces how important learning is, that we all have something to give and we all have something to learn.