On this year’s International Volunteer Day (5 December 2021) not only are we celebrating BGS teacher John Carr, who has been recognised for his long-standing commitment to the DofE scheme we also want to celebrate and thank the very many pupils who also give their time to support others, both in school and in the wider community.
The importance of volunteers and volunteering is recognised not only by the UN, who coordinate International Volunteers Day, but also by organisations such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme which includes volunteering as a key component for participants.
Currently at BGS we have 120 Year 10 pupils completing the DofE at Bronze level, which will include them volunteering for 3 or 6 months, and another 63 students undertaking their Gold DofE, which will see them volunteering for 12 or 18 months. Between April 2020 and March 2021, despite restrictions caused by the pandemic, this equated to an impressive 1,638 hours of volunteering with a social value of almost £7,500!
Clubs and Activities are another way for pupils at BGS to get involved in volunteering. Currently 35 Sixth Form students are helping out in the wider community on a Tuesday afternoon as part of the activities programme, while BGS’s Global Issues Network club, open to Year 8 upwards, runs with the aim of enabling pupils to engage with local issues and take an active part in helping their local communities. They are given the opportunity to develop their understanding and create their own plans as teams; recently they volunteered at the NW Bristol foodbank which has been set up to provide emergency items for those who find themselves in distress. There are also many pupils who are volunteering outside of organised schemes and activities.
Across all of these, the most common forms of volunteering are:-
• Working in a charity shop
• Supporting infant and juniors in the classroom, at BGS or elsewhere
• Working in elderly care homes
• Animal rescue centres
• Coaching sport to younger age groups
• Becoming young leaders in Cubs, guides or scouts
• Supporting work in faith communities
• Peer mentoring
• Raising money for particular charities
However the beauty of volunteering is you can tailor it to your skills and interests and BGS pupils have also been involved in volunteering at the local museum, teaching German to an elderly neighbour, clearing Japanese Knotweed from a river bank and volunteering at COVID vaccination centres.
The last of these has been undertaken by more than twenty of our Sixth Form students, many of who are considering careers in the medical profession. While they undoubtedly gained useful medical experience from their volunteering, for pupils like Tejas and Emily who took part, they also gained a great deal personally. Greeting patients arriving for vaccinations, many of who were elderly and had not left their homes for many months, impressed on both Emily and Tejas the real difference medicine and healthcare could make to the lives of individuals. It also enabled them to see first-hand the positive impact their efforts were having on people's lives, something both found incredibly rewarding.
Our aim at BGS is to encourage all our pupils to discover the rewards of doing something for someone else, be it a one-off act of kindness or an ongoing commitment to a cause. Our Year 7 pupils are invited to do just that by becoming ‘Holiday Helpers’ during the school holidays – the October half-term saw them undertake everything from litter picking and charity fundraising.
We are delighted that so many of our pupils embrace the opportunity to give back to the wider community, especially because volunteering doesn’t just help the organisations and communities the volunteers work in, it benefits the volunteers themselves. Did you know that research shows that – compared with people who never volunteered – the odds of being “very happy” rose by 7% among those who volunteer monthly and by 12% among those who volunteer every 2–4 weeks? (Source: UN Volunteers Programme).
Thank you to all our BGS volunteers and, if you're not already among them, here are five great reasons to start volunteering:
1. It's good for you: volunteering reduces stress – experts report that when you focus on someone other than yourself, it interrupts usual tension-producing patterns.
2. You learn a lot: through helping others you’ll develop compassion and empathy, and can also discover hidden talents that may change your view on your self-worth.
3. It brings people together: volunteering unites people from diverse backgrounds to work toward a common goal.
4. Volunteers gain professional experience: you can test out a career.
5. You make a difference: every person counts!