Three cheers for volunteers!

What makes the world go round? Some people would say money, others love, but after more than 25 years working with the community and voluntary sectors, I’m pretty certain it’s actually volunteers. It’s certainly true for the UK online centres network.

I see all the time the amazing work volunteers do in their communities (more on that soon), so I think it’s only right that volunteers get not only a day, but a whole week to celebrate their contribution. And that week is this week – I hope you’ve had a great National Volunteers’ Week – whether as a volunteer or someone who’s had the good fortune to meet a volunteer this week.

If you’re in any doubt as to the impact volunteers have on this country, you only need to look at the statistics. It’s estimated that 20 million people give their time to their communities every year, totalling 100 million hours a week and contributing £40 billion a year to the British economy.

And that’s only the ones that identify themselves as volunteers. After that you’ve got the unpaid child carers (lots of grannies and grandads), helpful neighbours, self-started community group leaders, and many, many others.

Last year saw volunteers take centre stage, as the Games Makers were rightfully celebrated for their contribution to a hugely successful London Olympics – something I wrote about at the time – but I believe that this year, volunteers are if anything, even more important.

Budgets across the voluntary and community sector have continued to be squeezed as we work through a period of austerity. Just as the services the sector provides are becoming more valuable to communities in need, they’re becoming more difficult to sustain. And it’s volunteers that are keeping so many of these services alive – and even kicking.

OCF manages a network of around 3,000 UK online centres, and we estimate there are around 25,000 active volunteers support their work, helping more than 1,000,000 people make the most of online life in the last three years. Their backgrounds vary – from retirees giving back to their communities, job seekers increasing skills and even young people gaining working experience.

Cheryl from my hometown of Sheffield is just one fantastic example. She first visited her local UK online centre more than three years ago to gain online skills, but soon had enough confidence to support other learners. She’s been volunteering at the centre ever since, gaining further IT and teaching qualifications along the way – you can read more of Cheryl’s inspiring story here.

OCF has been very happy this week, to join the Volunteers’ Week celebrations by offering  a volunteer-only training grant, and FREE online training opportunities to any volunteer anywhere! It’s great to know that dozens of volunteers have had the chance to get a few more skills as part of this.

I know lots of other organisations have been getting involved and showing their appreciation to their volunteers and I want to add my voice to the chorus by saying a huge THANK YOU to every single volunteer out there – digital skills supporters and beyond.

You don’t just make the world go round – you also make it a better place to live.

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