Braintree's army of volunteers doing their bit to improve social wellbeing
PUBLISHED: 17:32 21 May 2018 | UPDATED: 11:00 25 May 2018
The benefits of social wellbeing and community spirit are manifested best through volunteering, and Braintree is a hotbed of helpers, discovers Petra Hornsby
It was Franklin D Roosevelt who famously said: “We must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all people, of all kinds, to live together and work together.”
It may not be a sentiment you would hear from the current US president, but it certainly has the ring of truth and within our own communities in Essex, people have been applying this altruistic philosophy by volunteering their time and their skills to help those in need for many years.
And the evidence is that this strengthens a sense of well-being – not just for those in receipt of their support, but for the volunteers too.
In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow produced his theory of the Hierarchy of Needs where he suggested that, after physical safety, what humans need most is “emotional belonging”. And volunteering is one of the best ways to create strong social and emotional bonds.
Jon Rees is the advice and guidance officer at Community 360, an organisation based in Braintree and Colchester which is, “committed to a vision to build thriving local communities”. Jon believes that volunteering provides a multitude of positive opportunities and experiences.
In his previous job as an employment advisor, he could see one very good reason for jumping onto the volunteering band wagon.
Jon explains: “There are many reasons to volunteer and one very good one is as a positive way to get back into employment, in that it offers a chance to refresh skills, learn new ones and looks great on a CV. Often employers want to see what you have done most recently, rather than jobs and roles from years ago, and volunteering reflects motivation too, which employers really like.
“Parents sometimes phone up and enquire for their teenagers looking for a way for them to have their first experience of work. For some people who, for various reasons including poor health, have had a break from employment, it’s also a good way to prepare for going back to work permanently.”
Older people are also keen to participate, as volunteering helps to fight social isolation which can be common and sometimes devastasting after retirement.
“There are options for people of all ages and from all walks of life to choose an area that is appealing,” adds Jon. “Charity retail shops are very popular, but people can also offer their time through social media, cooking, gardening or being a volunteer driver – there are many ways to give back to the community.”
Community 360 currently holds the contract for providing volunteers for Colchester and Clacton hospitals, with roles that range from bringing in a therapy dog and being a runner with prescriptions, to working in the canteen and meeting and greeting patients in A&E.
Jon is very keen to promote the concept of “ad-hoc” volunteering where favours can be “banked” and later traded off for some help in return.
“This is a great way for busy people to get involved in volunteering. For example, a hairdresser might offer to cut someone’s hair, maybe an elderly person who might be housebound, and that time would be banked as a credit.
It might be at some stage that the credit might be needed by the hairdresser for anything from language tuition to help with Photoshop. We had one situation where a lady used the Time Bank for help in setting up a new television set.
“The person who came round turned out to be a next door neighbour and they enjoyed a cup of tea and chat as well as sorting out the television.”
There are more than 500 Time Bank members currently registered and those holding ‘credits’ can also choose to donate them to someone else in need. Community 360 has dedicated staff that help lead more than 400 volunteers on community-led projects as well as offering expertise and support to over 300 organisations and community groups looking for support or help with raising and accessing funds.
They have an excellent website with plenty of information about what they do, and Jon also recommends visiting volunteeressex.org which lists hundreds of volunteer vacancies.
Braintree District Council keenly promotes volunteering – so much so that last year the council decided to join in with National Volunteers Week by holding an awards evening for volunteers nominated from local communities.
Volunteers’ Week takes place from June 1 to 7 every year and is a chance to recognise and celebrate the great contribution made by hundreds of people giving their time in a diverse range of roles.
Last year, over 50 people were nominated and the overall winner was Barbara Smith, who has volunteered at the Braintree District Mencap for more than 43 years. At the age of 82, Barbara still helps every week with the society’s Gateway Club, making tea and helping with transport.
Councillor Peter Tattersley, Cabinet Member for Health and Communities, adds: “These awards are one way of thanking the exceptional people and groups for the incredible work they do within the community and who donate their time, skills and care, day in and day out.”
Tracey Rudling, CEO of Community 360, organises the awards alongside Braintree District Council. She commented: “The Braintree District Volunteer Awards is a way of showing our appreciation of those who offer their skills, energy, empathy and time to ensure we have stronger neighbourhoods, resilient services and better connected communities.”
Volunteers are clearly making a huge difference across the county in a variety of different ways, and receiving deserved recognition is extra icing on the feel-good factor cake that psychologists see as being a natural benefit of getting involved.