Wednesday 3rd June 2020
The first week of June is Volunteers' Week across the country, an annual celebration of the contribution millions of people make across the UK through volunteering. COVID-19 has stopped many of the activities we would usually do, so we're taking this opportunity to reflect on the contribution volunteers make at Heart Valve Voice and beyond.
I've worked in the voluntary sector since 2002 and have seen it evolve into the vibrant industry it is today. The benefits of volunteers are immeasurable, they are the lifeblood of everything that we do, without them, our power and reach would be significantly diminished. And that passion for giving back continues to grow. In 2017/18 20.1 million people, 38% of the population, volunteered in the UK at least once, with 11.8 million people volunteering at least once a month. There are over 150,000 voluntary organisations in the UK, most of which rely on volunteers, so that breadth and power of our voluntary culture is crucial to support our vibrant sector. Year on year, those giving back increases, helping the sector to grow and do more. The voluntary sector faces an incredible challenge at the present time, but I take comfort knowing that so many people across the country are willing to give up their time to help others.
But volunteering isn't just about helping others, as it is proven that the mental wellbeing of the volunteer is enriched too. This collective spirit of supporting one another breathes life into our voluntary sector, but it also promotes our personal wellbeing and improves community cohesion. Volunteering has proved to reduce anxiety and stress, and it also reduces social isolation and loneliness by encouraging people to get out and engage with others.
For me, throughout my work with Heart Valve Voice, and across my career, I have seen the real impact volunteers make. They are so much more than a physical presence at events, they can raise a charity to new levels, broadening their reach and strengthening their capacity to improve the lives of the people they work for. At Heart Valve Voice, we have volunteers from an array of backgrounds who have found Heart Valve Voice by different means. Whether they are writing stories, editing a magazine, participating in focus groups, talking to the public at testing events or members of our Patient Action Group, their breadth of knowledge and personal experience empowers and improves our message, enabling us to increase awareness and improve detection, diagnosis and treatment of heart valve disease. Crucially they give us the power to affect policy change and lock in a structure that delivers for future patients.
When I sat down to write this blog, I thought a lot about what makes a great volunteer, and I've seen so many during my time in this sector. But a person that came to mind was our patient advocate Ian Berry. A great volunteer gives back in lots of different ways and can change the message to suit various fields. Ian does just that. He has spoken to industry partners, where he talked about his experience and his gratitude for the innovation that helped to change his life. At Parliament, he used his knowledge and personal experience to illustrate the importance of policy change - helping improve the structures of care for future valve disease patients. His bike ride, was inspirational, showing what can be achieved and personifying the power of positive ageing. On our social media campaigns and testing events, he raises awareness at a grassroots level. It's incredibly powerful to be able to contribute in so many ways. Ian's willingness to help does so much for our charity and all those affected by heart valve disease, be it patients or their families, carers or clinicians.
There are so many different ways to volunteer, and we are blessed with many who, like Ian, are passionate about giving back in whatever they can. Contributing your time and energy to a good cause is a powerful thing to do, and I would encourage anyone who has ever thought about doing it to jump right in and get started.