I sometimes get the feeling that if all the people who volunteer in the UK went on strike the whole country would fall to pieces, what with cuts to public services and third sector organisations struggling to gain funding. I find, more and more, that the people who are helping to get things done are ordinary people who are willing to give up their time to make the things they care about happen.
Volunteering is a very rewarding occupation and there is certainly a ‘feel good’ factor about giving something back; it keeps people active and provides a boost in confidence for all ages, plus is a great way of beating social isolation and boredom for many.
I volunteer for Backyard Food and find that it’s a great way to hang out with my friends, fellow volunteers who I’ve met since my involvement. I feel good that I’m part of a movement that’s offering a sustainable alternative to supermarket mayhem and love my days in the shop where I get to be in beautiful surroundings, and interact with shoppers and hear their stories and share mine, even if that is just chatting about the weather! Plus I also get to play shopkeeper which is great fun!
Many of our projects at PECT rely upon the support of volunteers, from those who plant trees for Forest for Peterborough to our regular office volunteers Peter and Karen, who keep the rest of us in check! Karen busies herself in the office two mornings a week and with 15 years of service is our longest-standing PECT member. One of the community’s team projects that would not exist without support from local resident volunteers is our Big Local team in WestRaven (Westwood and Ravensthorpe).
Funded by the Big Lottery’s Local Trusts, whose mission is to enable residents to make their communities and their areas even better places in which to live, WestRaven were lucky enough to be awarded one million pounds to spend over a 10 year period to improve their area and the lives of the people who live there. I’ve been working with the resident volunteers there for two years now and during that time I’ve really come to appreciate the dedication and skills of the people involved, and made some new friends along the way!
The two main thrusts of the project are to open a community cafe (watch this space for the date of the grand opening late this summer) and to create a community garden on a piece of land adjacent to Ravensthorpe school. Other things they are up to include creating a space for the youth of the area to be safe and happy and a ‘community chest’ where local people can apply for funding for their own projects.
The thing I’ve been most impressed with is the tenacity shown by the people involved; it’s been a long journey, which hasn’t been without its challenges (who ever thought opening a cafe would be easy?) but the residents just keep pushing on and doing their upmost best to stay in positive spirits and resolve problems as and when they arise. They have also created some impressive partnerships along the way, with the prison (the only Big Local area with inmates as residents), Cross Keys Homes, the local schools and many more.
The future is looking bright for WestRaven. Once the cafe is open and the garden is fully up and running these two places will be a great springboard for even more people to get involved and reap the rewards of volunteering.
If you would like to get involved with this project or other PECT projects please email [email protected]. If you are thinking about volunteering elsewhere in the city click on the link to PCVS, there are also links to Backyard Foods and PECT volunteering opportunities.
My message is get involved – the rewards are fantastic and it’s a really good feeling to be giving something back, and, who knows you may even, like me, make some really good friends along the way.
Karen Igho is Communities Team Manager for PECT.