Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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You give you get

July 24 2018
Sunbathed building © Mat Amp Sunbathed building © Mat Amp
Let's talk volunteering, writes Mat Amp

It’s easy to be positive when things are going well for you and too easy to forget how bad it can feel when you lose your livelihood, your gal, your house and eventually your marbles.

At least that was my experience and it happened very much in that order. Looking back, it’s hard to believe how rapidly and completely depression set in, destroying the fabric of my life and with it my identity and self-esteem.

One of the amazing things when you write about your feelings is looking back at them later when you’re in a completely different place.

And so it was, that thumbing through some old notebooks I came across a few scribbled passages that were seemingly committed to paper by someone other than myself.

They were words written when I was in the midst of chronic addiction, wrestling with demons that seemed insurmountable. I had all but given up.

I’m pretty sure those words would have amounted to my final chapter too, if I hadn't started volunteering. There was a point when I decided that if I couldn’t beat my addiction I was going to give up trying... and then I stumbled into the Pavement magazine and a social enterprise called Poached Creative.

The world of volunteering didn’t just give me an opportunity and a purpose, it saved my life. It’s really as simple as that.

Simple but not easy or straightforward. We live in a society where things aren’t valued unless they’re paid for, but at the same time women who are paid for sex are degraded with the label ‘whore’. There is rank hypocrisy in what we pay for goods and services and how we value them. Nowhere is this more keenly noticeable than in our attitude towards volunteering.

When you start volunteering you’re gonna get people asking you what you do. You know, the way people do straight off the bat when they want to put you in one of their boxes with the simple labels: upwardly mobile, do-gooder, minimum wage, loser... fuck that. No really, FUCK THAT. Don’t play their game.

Be aware that the stuff you’ve learnt on your journey is unique and the knowledge you’ve acquired valuable. And not just in the homeless sector.

The resilience and survival skills you need to get through a day when you’re homeless are strengths that make you way more canny and resilient than the average somebody or other who sells insurance and lives at home with their mum in Surbiton at the age of 28.

Reward has got to be measured in more than just cold hard cash. What about the simple joy of feeling good about giving something back? Come to that, the simple joy of giving?

Volunteering isn’t just a way of reconnecting to a society you’ve lost contact with and a means of keeping busy, it’s a doorway to the world of paid employment.

It might take time and you may have to put up with a few people not understanding or valuing exactly what it is that you are doing, but you don’t need their approval.

You may find that the same people who will tut at you for scrounging on the dole might be the same people who roll their eyeballs when they hear that you’re giving up your time and effort for ‘free’. Sometimes you’re going to get that same negative response from friends who just want you to move forward, be valued and get paid.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what the response or who it’s coming from - if you’re volunteering and it feels good, you don’t need anyone else’s permission - you just need to be you.

Seems like everybody's got a price
I wonder how they sleep at night
When the sale comes first
And the truth comes second
Just stop for a minute and smile.
Price Tag by Jessie J


Where to volunteer?

Charities in London Groundswell leads the way in volunteering opportunities. Check out Crisis and the courses run at your nearest Recovery College.

Social enterprises The business model of the future (my opinion) and represents a good balance between private and charity sectors.

Private sector Be careful.


Useful links: