THOUSANDS of people across the county give up their free time to contribute to society by volunteering.
This week is the 30th Volunteers’ Week and West Sussex County Council is taking the opportunity to say thank you to the many people who help others.
Volunteering is not just about helping others, it is a great opportunity to meet new people and learn and develop new skills, while gaining valuable experience to utilise in other roles and possible future employment.
The theme for this year’s awareness week is ‘Time To Say Thank You’, which encourages people to celebrate and recognise the local volunteers in their communities and challenge people to take part themselves.
Louise Goldsmith, West Sussex County Council leader, said: “Volunteers do tremendous work throughout the county, day in, day out, and really do make a big difference.
“They are valued and respected for their contribution and commitment to volunteering and we are extremely grateful for the service they provide.
“Volunteers Week is an opportunity to support their efforts and recognise their achievements.”
There are a number of volunteer roles available within the county council including with the Fire and Rescue Service, day centres, library service, independent visitor scheme, youth services and the Red Cross.
Catherine Mouatt, family resource service manager for the county council, highlighted the efforts of volunteers who have offered to drive young carers to groups, clubs and activities to give them a break from the extra responsibilities they have at home.
She said: “The young carers volunteer transport project has been fantastic in improving access for young carers to local youth groups and positive activities, raising their self-esteem and self-confidence, and giving them opportunities to make friends.
“Volunteers have given their time, energy and enthusiasm which has been much commented on by parents, young people and youth workers. We cannot thank them enough.”
Many charities simply could not operate without the help of volunteers.
Judie Chambers, who has been volunteering for Worthing Churches Homeless Projects for more than 10 years, said: “I cook a meal at a hostel once a week and breakfast at the day centre once per month.
“I also help out at one of the WCHP charity shops. I really enjoy it, and I get a real buzz seeing people’s lives improve and their confidence grow.”
In 2013, 180 active volunteers dedicated 12,000 hours of their spare time to carry out varying roles from collecting donated goods, cooking, life skills coaching, hairdressing, gardening and helping in charity shops.
At the age of 91, the oldest volunteer makes sandwiches on a regular basis and the youngest at 16 helps in one of the charity shops.
St Clare’s Day Centre, which is open 365 days a year, is just one aspect of the charity that relies on volunteers each day.
To acknowledge the people who help enable the charity to work towards achieving its mission of ending local homelessness, the charity is hosting a volunteer tea party on Saturday, June 7.
Claire Thomas, volunteer co-ordinator for the charity, said: “I cannot overstate how important volunteers are to WCHP. Without them, we simply wouldn’t be able to run many of our services.
“We can’t thank them enough for the time and enthusiasm that they give to us. Of course, Volunteers Week in June shouldn’t be the only time that we recognise the amazing contribution of our volunteers, but it is an excuse to celebrate.”
Guild Care’s volunteers are also vital to the charity’s services.
Volunteering manager Jo Tuck said: “Volunteering for Guild Care offers the chance to develop your personal skills and support a good cause in the process. From boosting your employability by volunteering in our charity shops, to developing your communication skills by visiting someone who has just come home from hospital.
“You could even help provide a fun and protected environment for children and teenagers with learning disabilities at the Ashdown Centre. The possibilities are truly endless.
“As demand for Guild Care’s services increases, the charity is keen to unite with volunteers that are able to support one-off fundraising events or make a regular commitment – even if it just for an hour or two a week.”
More than 800 volunteers give up their time to help St Barnabas House and Chestnut Tree House.
Chief executive Hugh Lowson said: “They help us in so many ways, from serving meals to our patients, helping with activities in the day hospice and serving in our coffee shop at St Barnabas to housekeeping, gardening, admin and reception duties at Chestnut Tree House.
“Without them, the hospices really would not be able to function – they are an essential and much appreciated part of our service.
“It is wonderful to celebrate our volunteers during Volunteers Week but we are grateful to them every single day of the year for being there for St Barnabas and Chestnut Tree House.”
Jennie McNair, from East Preston, is among a number of people being recognised as NSPCC Volunteer Heroes during Volunteers’ Week for her efforts to support the children’s charity.
Jennie, 76, has been volunteering for the charity since 1975, when, as a singer, she organised a concert to raise much needed funds.
In 1990, Jennie she became chairman of the local fundraising group and since that time has staged numerous events including beetle drives, garden parties, and an annual coffee morning each October.
Jennie is one of more than 10,000 people who regularly undertake a wide range of activities on behalf of the NSPCC and has helped to raise in the region of £200,000 over the years – much of it from sales of her homemade jams and marmalades.
Great-grandmother Jennie, said she had made many friends through volunteering. “I’ve also visited some wonderful places, although my jams have travelled further - to Kiev, Japan, America, Canada and France,” she said.
“To anyone who is considering becoming an NSPCC volunteer I would just say ‘please do’. The more people we have helping to raise vital funds for the charity’s work, the easier it is for everyone and the more we can spread the word and protect vulnerable children.”
NSPCC fundraising manager Tracey Bravo said; “Our volunteers really are heroes to us and, more importantly, to the children that we work to protect, and so we wanted to celebrate them and the fantastic things that they do to make our work with vulnerable children possible.
“Jennie’s support has been invaluable and we would like to appeal to other local people to become NSPCC volunteers.”
Citizens Advice’s latest report on volunteering found that six in 10 people who give their time to the service feel less stressed as a result.
Research also found volunteering can be particularly beneficial for people who suffer with mental health problems, as three-quarters of individuals identified with mental health issues said ‘volunteering helped them feel more able to manage their condition’.
Four in five people believe volunteering has had a positive effect on their health.
Sarah Hyde, chief officer of Central and South Sussex CAB, said: “Volunteers are the lifeblood of the service and make a huge contribution to the local community, helping to support more than 25,000 local people each year when they need it the most. The figures in the new Citizens Advice report reveal the benefits that volunteers can expect to see themselves.”
Sussex Neighbourhood Watch Search Teams has won this year’s Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in West Sussex.
Based at Burgess Hill police station and led by Derek Pratt, from Crawley, the teams were formed following the Sarah Payne tragedy in 2000. Volunteers are called out to assist in the search for missing persons and evidence which is crucial to a police enquiry.
Lord-Lieutenant Susan Pyper said: “I hope that their success will act as a spur to our many other voluntary organisations in West Sussex to encourage them to seek formal recognition of the excellence of their work.’