I am writing this at the end of national Volunteers’ Week, which is a chance to celebrate and say thank you for the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK.
The week is marked by local and regional conferences, awards ceremonies, open days and fairs all recognising the important work that volunteers do.
I am extremely enthusiastic about the new initiative in Cancer Sciences to give all its members a day to volunteer – something we have covered in this blog before and which is now gaining momentum.
Following HR approval, we have contacted dozens of local organisations with a wide range of interests from homelessness, mental health, and children’s charities through to environmental groups. All who have responded so far are enthusiastic about taking on individuals or groups of volunteers. Hopefully we will be able to celebrate our own volunteers during next year’s Volunteers’ Week.
Apart from the obvious good brought about by the work undertaken by volunteering for a worthy cause; it can be a personally rewarding experience. As the tag line from Volunteers Week says: “It’s human nature to feel good after helping someone out”.
It also brings people of diverse backgrounds together, helps builds relationships between individuals and organisations, and it’s a way of gaining new skills. Schemes operating in the Netherlands bring together school children and students with individuals in society who are at high risk of loneliness such as the elderly and people with dementia. The young people who volunteer – and especially University students who have opted to share a house with a person with dementia – unanimously report on the benefits to their own lives. By enriching their experience this way, they build self-esteem, confidence and a sense of responsibility.
A healthy workplace builds on these principles and, as I’ve said in this blog before, in the Centre for Cancer Immunology, we see the level of volunteering among our people as a measure of collegiality. This can be anything from fetching the milk in a morning to leading a complex grant proposal for infrastructure from which we will all benefit. How apposite, then that in volunteers’ week, two such major bids went in from the faculty: one to overhaul our Flow Cytometry capability and one for a new PhD programme. Both applications are characterised by a strong self-assembled team of staff who stepped up to the plate to take on mammoth challenges for the common good. These are good examples of how collegiality drives excellence.