In my ‘before’ life, I spent a lot of time saying how busy I was and how I just didn’t have time for much more than work and being a mum. I hadn’t always been this way. When I was younger and before my daughter I used to volunteer a fair bit. And I enjoyed it.
One of the things I wanted to do when I started working for myself was find time to give back again. Six months in, I’ve started doing just that. It feels good (and it should, research has shown that giving back is good for your mental health). It also makes me feel rather silly for thinking I couldn’t have done anything before because what I’ve realised is that giving back to your community doesn’t have to take much time or effort.
There are so many ways you can give back, from ones that take a few minutes, to one that take hours, days or weeks. So, if you are looking for a way to do just that, you might want to try some or all of these ideas…
Support local businesses
Local businesses are key to helping communities thrive and grow. According to smallbusiness.co.uk, for every £10 spent in a local business, £50 goes back into the local economy. So, while it might be easier to go through the drive-thru at Starbucks because you are in a rush, next time think about going into an independent coffee shop for your latte. And, once you’ve used a shop, think about leaving a positive review to encourage others to shop there. As far as time out of your day goes, this takes minutes if that.
Donate to food banks
I’m not sure there is a community in the UK that doesn’t have a food bank, providing food for people in need. Donating food is a great way to give back and help others and, again, it doesn’t take much time. Add a few items to your trolley when you are doing your weekly shop. Some grocery stores, like Tesco, have collection points in store so you can add the items on your way out the door. If your local supermarket doesn’t have a collection point, put the items you’ve bought in a bag or box and, when it’s full, drop it off at your nearest food bank.
Pick up litter
One of the things I’ve been doing recently is going out once a week with a local litter picking group. It’s been great for getting me out, adding to my daily step count, and meeting new people. I’ve also got to feel a sense of pride in seeing what an area looks like before and after. Litter picking groups are completely voluntary and you can give as little as an hour a week – not much to have to fit in. Litteraction.org.uk lists over a thousand community-based groups if you are interested in finding one close to you – Facebook is also a good source of information.
Share your pet
If you have a dog or cat who are good around people, you might want to consider volunteering them (and you) to visit people who are elderly or ill. Spending time with animals has been shown to be beneficial for older people in nursing homes, for those with mental health problems who might feel socially isolated as well as young people with behavioural issues. This type of volunteering will likely need a longer time commitment but could be very worthwhile. Pets As Therapy are a national charity linking people and pets and worth a visit if this sounds like something for you.
Sign up to volunteer
Every area will have a volunteering body (maybe more than one) that lists ways you can volunteer. Most of these will require you to fill out paperwork and some might ask you to be vetted depending on what you will be doing. They might also require minimum time commitments. They should also share details of one off volunteering opportunities though for those who can’t commit long-term or don’t know what they’ll be doing one week to the next. A quick look at my local volunteering site showed opportunities to help out at charity events and build a community garden.
I’ve done all of these in the last six months and I have found them really rewarding. I feel more connected to my area than I ever have before and have met some amazing and inspiring people, as well as a few I hope to call friends in the not too distant future. I wish I had found the time to do it sooner.
What do you think? Are you where I was or have you always managed to find ways to give back? And if you do, what works for you?
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