The number of people carrying out volunteering activities in England has risen by 5% since 2010 and all across the United Kingdom an army of willing volunteers have stepped in where local authorities have fallen short – in libraries, youth clubs, the police force or care homes, you name it.

But why? Aren’t people employed to do these jobs? Well, since 2010 when the coalition government was formed, we have all been living under a nationwide programme of austerity, with cuts to government spending, including halving the amount of money it gives to local councils. And what this means for me and you is fewer police on the streets, longer hospital waiting times and less frequent bin collections – basic services we generally take for granted but that make a difference to our everyday lives. With public services being cut left, right and centre, residents have been left with no choice but to step up to the plate themselves and volunteer their services to help keep libraries open, to help the elderly do their weekly shopping and keep smiles on children’s faces. With 34% of Gateshead residents volunteering regularly and 41% volunteering at least once a year across England, austerity has inspired a nation.

With millions enjoying the benefits of volunteering, why not make this season the time for you to get inspired too? Why not volunteer to save a life with St John’s ambulance or help keep our coastline safe with the RNLI? Maybe try your hand at a bit of gardening with the National Trust or – like many young people – take a job in your local charity shop. Personally, I regularly volunteer my time at the Tanfield Railway near Sunniside, where we are tasked with keeping our local industrial heritage alive and putting smiles on hundreds of visitors’ faces everyday as they experience the thrill of steam haulage. Taking on new volunteers from the age of 12, the railway has a thriving youth team where young people are taught the value of giving something back into the community whilst being able to enjoy their time helping keep the world’s oldest railway firmly on the rails. And to say I am involved in that makes me smile.

As well as the Tanfield Railway, nearby Beamish museum is also an excellent place for young people to volunteer, making heritage attractions the unlikely home for young volunteers across our counties.

If you have any questions regarding volunteering, feel free to drop us an email at melanie@bringingwords.org.

mebobgins