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Civil Service

Volunteering – give a little, gain a lot

Head and shoulders of Alex Chisholm
Alex Chisholm, Permanent Secretary, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

It’s not every day that the Exec Team from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) find themselves in a day-care centre for older people affected by dementia.

We had volunteered to help out in the spirit of ‘giving it a go’, and doing something a bit different as a team. As individuals, we each do some volunteering and charity work because we want to give something back, but had not previously tried doing so together. It proved to be a really rewarding and uplifting experience. And we have been invited back.

We were assigned tasks to help clear up after lunch, and then to provide two hours of entertainment and distraction for the elderly visitors.

Reflecting on the experience as we walked back to the office, we agreed we had found it good for energy, a ‘feel-good’ factor, team unity and purpose. These were common themes when I sat down with the volunteering network across BEIS. Others spoke warmly about how they found volunteering good for self-awareness, inclusiveness, life skills, influencing and leadership.

Volunteering uses skills directly applicable in work. Volunteers have to show initiative to get the job done. And working with new people to produce a result in a short amount of time is critical to success in volunteering and as a civil servant.

Those volunteering with the elderly and the homeless in particular have found that it hones their communication skills. Others find that interacting with members of the community they might not normally meet makes them more aware of diversity in the workplace. For all of us, it helps us bring our whole selves to work.

Man and woman in sailing boatThe variety of different activities supported by volunteers across the Civil Service is remarkable. Within BEIS many volunteers work as helpers and fundraisers in local charities to help the homeless and other vulnerable members of the community.  Others go further afield – one volunteers for the British Sub-Aqua Club, while another helps people with disabilities go sailing.

The Civil Service encourages us all to undertake volunteering activity. In the words of Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service: “Volunteering is one of the best ways you can gain experience and build your skills while helping others in your community.” And following the Government’s 2015 manifesto commitment to give those who work for a big company and the public sector a new workplace entitlement to volunteering leave, departments now offer a minimum of three days a year special paid leave to do so.

'A great place to work' logoSo, if you haven’t done so already, why not take advantage of this opportunity and make volunteering part of your personal and professional development? You can learn more about the opportunities across the Civil Service by talking to your department’s volunteering network; or look up opportunities online through Do-It or the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

I think you will find, as I and my team did, the truth of the volunteering motto: “Give a little, gain a lot.”

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  1. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you for an interesting blog.

    When I returned to the UK a few years ago, I decided to join a Voluntary Group who working in collaboration with the Local Council to help to preserve our local heath.

    Apart from being out in the fresh air, this has presented me with a great opportunity to meet with older people that I would never had previously met or spoken to, who have had some very interesting stories to tell about their lives and in particular increased my knowledge on the history of the town that I live in.

    Apart from the friendships that I have formed, I have also learnt some new countryside skills and also learnt a little more about myself.

    The following is a link to their website

  2. Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

    Very well done on volunteering. I volunteer with the British Red Cross doing Emergency Response call outs. Mostly the aftermath of house fires, and i am responsible for getting beneficaries new accomodation for the night. This involves ringing local homeless shelters and councils. It is a reminder of the great difficulties a homeless person can face. A rather unpleasant administrative nightmare, and it is my role to help out. I also do first aid events for the Red Cross as well.

    I love volunteering with them as it is in my nature to help people out in times of crises. Especially in today's world, where basic first aid knowledge is essential.

    In applying my experiences to the workplace, it has given me an insight into basic management decision making. Not easy at 2am in the morning and it is pouring with rain and you have distressed people to cater for.

    I would thoroughly recommend anyone to do a spot of volunteering, even if it is once a year. An act of kindness will go a long way into making this troubled world of ours, just a little bit more tolerable.

  3. Comment by Lisa posted on

    I congratulate Alex and his team on their volunteering stint at the day centre and the creativity that would have gone into the entertainment. Could you say what the entertainments were? My mother's day-centre usually do bingo.