Thursday 3rd June 2021

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. The past 18 months have placed an extraordinary strain on the sector, but I have been overwhelmed to see how the country has come together to support charities that have struggled financially while the demand for their services has increased significantly.

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 the breadth and power of our voluntary culture is crucial. Year on year, the number of people giving back increases, which is a testament to our collective ambition to support one another. 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 volunteer's mental well-being 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 the magazine, participating in focus groups, talking to the public at testing events or volunteering in 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 Phill Read. A great volunteer gives back in lots of different ways and can change the message to suit different fields. Phill does just that. In 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. He developed blogs and vlogs, which gave a window into a deeply personal experience, but one which gives others a sense of comfort knowing that they are not alone. With our social media campaigns, he raises awareness at a grassroots level, but highlights the power social media can have. He recently emailed his MP as part of our campaign, and not only did he meet with the MP, but that meeting led to the MP asking a question in parliament and supporting our 100,000 Conversations campaign on social media. It's incredibly powerful to be able to contribute in so many ways. Phill’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 Phill, is 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.