Going Local from a young age…

By Christopher Oldnall

‘Whilst I didn’t feed the thousands or create world peace, every time I went local in my volunteering, I did help someone.’

Volunteering is the act of an individual or group freely giving time and labour for community service. This is the first thing that comes up when you put volunteering into Wikipedia. Human nature dictates that every action a human carries out is with purpose and not without self-gain. This leads me to the question, ‘Why do I volunteer?’

Perhaps a good ansatz for the question is the classic CV filler type argument. Then again maybe my motivation is a little wider. From a young age, I have always been involved in some form of voluntary work—being on my school council right through senior school always meant I was doing fundraising of some sort. Past this obligatory system of non-uniform days and organising charity football tournaments, I also began volunteering in a charity shop at the age of 14, The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Institute Crosby. Every Saturday I would wander up to the village and spend my Saturday morning steaming and tagging clothes as well as working the till. I guess when I think back this was my first huge step of independence in my youth as well as in meeting people (who very quickly became friends) that weren’t pre-described by school or family. This is what I gained from volunteering—independence and friends. I don’t think it would be dishonest to describe these as relatively pure motives for volunteering.

Once my childhood was up and the clock struck 18 I headed off to the University of York where my volunteering didn’t stop. At first I took part in a programme ‘y=mx+c’ which was a maths development programme for students in Year 8 and 9. Then only a couple months later I ran to become volunteering officer for the students’ union, guiding many student group projects in fulfilling a community plan and vision. Some (if not many) fellow students described both these activities as ‘effort’, especially whilst I was supposedly meant to be living my first couple of years in a semi-comatose hungover state. Why did I do it? Ultimately it made me feel good, but even more so connected me to my earlier youth; those happy memories of home.

Most recently in 2019 I became a volunteer for YUSU NightSafe. This was far different from the kind of volunteering I had done before. For once the airy-fairy illusion of helping a charity from a comfortable warm space was replaced with helping my local student community in providing first aid and mental health assistance on cold, dark streets. If anyone would have told me the things I would see and have to deal with as part of NightSafe, I wouldn’t have believed them…yet now I wouldn’t replace those experiences for the world.

There are a few key observations to take from my volunteering experiences. Each time I volunteered, it wasn’t with conscious motives of experience gain or skill development, but rather a place to meet new and like-minded people. Furthermore each place/organisation I worked with connected me to my local community in some way that reconnected me to my life at home. Finally I got to work with so many different causes, never particularly linked, but the linking factor was how I could support the community in a personal and quantifiable way.

As I sit writing this safely back in the comfort of a warm office, now my volunteering setting with Studenteer, I realise that my goals were never really that selfish. The only consequences of my actions were positive ones that always benefited the local community, but even more so gave me new experiences with new people who always shared a common goal, as well as giving me a ton of transferable skills I didn’t even realise I was gaining. Whilst I didn’t feed the thousands or create world peace, every time I went local in my volunteering, I did help someone. That’s my end message for this post in going local—you can help someone, and that’s better than helping no-one right? I’ve been going local from a young age and can confirm it feels really good to do something, no matter how small.

By Christopher Oldnall for Studenteer

© All Rights Reserved, Studenteer 2021

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