Putting Yourself in the Volunteer’s Shoes

Volunteer Edinburgh works with over 300 referral organisations that regularly encourage their clients to consider volunteering to improve their health and wellbeing. To quote one  “it has encouraged me to keep volunteering and to keep pushing the benefits of volunteering to people that I meet”….read more to hear why Lucy feels so passionate about volunteering.


“Putting Yourself in the Volunteer’s Shoes”

Lucy Holroyd from Community Renewal is one of the most passionate advocates of volunteering you could hope to meet. Volunteering helped her to pursue her dream of a career in community work and she sees it as “an essential step to employability for a lot of people”. As well as now supporting clients to volunteer, she herself continues to volunteer in a range of roles including befriending, supporting the Leith Festival and the Scottish Waterways Trust. The benefits she cites include gaining confidence particularly where people have been out of work for a long time as they can “put their toe in the water and try to do something that’s good for them and that they enjoy without pressure. Often it is their first step back to work and gives them something on their CV to bridge the gap. For others it might be about changing direction or getting that first bit of experience in a new area, or getting a reference – having someone vouch for them.” One of the reasons for Lucy’s clients to start volunteering is boredom. “We encourage people that volunteering is a good use of their time and that they can give something back while getting something in return.” Another benefit she cites is “meeting new people and getting involved in the community.”

But Lucy is also realistic about the practical and attitudinal challenges people face. Not being paid for their work might deter some people (“Why should I give up my time for free?”) or they might feel that they have been pushed. Others worry about not having enough support. The key to getting it right, she says, is “to listen to each person – where they are and how they feel; to work out what is best for them, and to take it one step at a time. The Health and Wellbeing Team are particularly helpful in knowing the organisations that can best support people. It’s about being person-centred, finding balance & getting the right match”. In the face of setbacks “you have to encourage people to keep going, put yourself in  their shoes, notice the smile on people’s faces when they realise they are doing something worthwhile; remember there are more success stories than failures”.

An important element of support according to Lucy is shadowing people on their first visit. “It can make all the difference as to whether a placement is successful. There should be funding for buddying and mentoring to happen more widely in Edinburgh because it is something that is missing”. She also cites professional development and accreditation for those supporting volunteers as important factors and which the Volunteer Centre has a crucial role in providing. “Professionally it has encouraged me to keep volunteering and to keep pushing the benefits of volunteering to people that I meet”

“Volunteering gives people a sense of purpose, and pride in their selves” says Lucy. “It helps them to look at their role in society and the values they might have and offers them the chance to give a little back. I think it is a matter of readdressing the power balance and giving power back to the person. Physically you can see them looking happier, being more conversational, definitely being more confident. They start looking you in the eye. It’s a simple difference but it’s a massive thing: hearing stories of how their lives have changed, the contacts they have made and how that impacts on their families too. It has a knock on effect. People gain skills and training which help them think about what they would like to do and even where there are gaps in their CV that they might have been worried about, they feel this is no longer an issue for them because they are doing something really worthwhile”. Lucy’s passion for her work is clear to see. Who could doubt the joy of volunteering when she continues to invest as a volunteer?