West Leeds: Four reasons why you should volunteer in your community


Ever thought about putting something back to your community by getting involved with a local group or organisation? Kirkstall in Bloom’s James Corah gives you four reasons why you should.

My name is James and I am a volunteer in my community.

There are many reasons why people get involved in volunteering, from wanting to improve their community or develop new skills, from wanting to come together to wanting to make new connections within the community.

I fall into all of those categories, there’s not one reason for volunteering.

Partly because of the work I do (I work for a higher education institution) though mostly through volunteering I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about motivation and motivating people.

Those two words can seem a bit of an embarrassment, or worse, a grubby activity that we are told to engage with but don’t really think works. Why should it? We don’t need motivating, we tell ourselves, we already know what we need.

And we’re right, we already know. Like the revelation of the murderer at the start of a crime novel, that secret knowledge is not kept from us. Except motivation doesn’t work like that. Sure, you’ve got the knowledge, dear detective reader, but not the experience.

Experience counts. It allows growth and development, and gives us knowledge that we can share.

My experience through volunteering has been far wider than I could anticipate.

kirkstall festival 2016
Rain did little to dampen the spirits of revellers and volunteers at Kirkstall Festival. Photo: West Leeds Dispatch

When I started volunteering in Leeds in 2011, there’s no way I could say that I helped Kirkstall in Bloom receive an award, be part of the team that welcomed more than 25,000 visitors to Kirkstall Festival, or be part of the crew that put on a play in Millennium Square for Light Night.

The people I’ve met through volunteering, my local MP Rachel Reeves, my ward councillors, members of my community, all experiences that come from volunteering.

I think I could motivate anyone to volunteer. There’s four approaches to taking up volunteering, and one of them will work with you.

First up, you’re already interested

You have thought about volunteering, and this is the final push you need. What you need now is to find a community group or organisation to volunteer with.

There’s quite a few resources available for volunteering opportunities though whenever I’ve got involved in something it has been through social media or online news sites like West Leeds Dispatch.

Everyone will know someone who already volunteers or has a family member or volunteers, so all you need to do is ask.

Volunteers have led community clean-ups throughout the year after the Boxing Day floods in Kirkstall. Photo: Open Source Arts

Second up, you’re not sure

You’ve heard friends talk about how much they like volunteering but you’ve also heard about the problems they’ve had.

That is understandable, with Kirkstall in Bloom it always seems that January is difficult because of the rain, and while Kirkstall Festival finishes at 5pm for visitors, our volunteers will be working through to 9pm or 10pm to return Kirkstall Abbey grounds to normal.

These aren’t problems though, they are little obstacles to overcome.

The rain in January is feeding the spring bulbs, and believe me, the sensation of knowing Kirkstall Festival attracted 25,000 people to the Abbey and we’ve managed to clear the grounds within four hours is wonderful.

Third, you don’t want to look silly volunteering or do something wrong

For whatever reason, you feel like you won’t be able to do volunteering right, because ultimately you feel that volunteering can only be right or wrong.

This is how I felt when I initially started volunteering, that somehow I might ruin everything by doing something incorrectly.

This was based on my experiences at school, and from listening to people who suggested that one shouldn’t ‘get involved’.

However, I knew I did want to get involved. I could see the impact other volunteers had in the community and understood how I could contribute.

This goes for all volunteers, don’t think about anyone else, if you want to do something in the community do it. Do it. Just by participating, doing something as a volunteer, you are already making a difference.

Kirkstall in Bloom volunteers at wiork in the secret garden off St Ann’s Lane. Photo: James Corah

Fourth. Well, let’s face it, you’re not convinced

In fact, you know there’s nothing in volunteering you would enjoy and you don’t have the time. You’re right, so right, about that. More than the anything else I’ve written here this I am sure of. Don’t believe me? Here’s your means of testing it.

Find a group that needs volunteers, and take part in one session per month for a total of four months. Then stop, completely stop.

The thing is, volunteering will help the individual and the community. There is work to be done, there will be difficulties, yet there is also a sense of accomplishment.

One of my best decisions was to get involved, I’d urge you to come together and volunteer in your community.

  Editor’s note: I’d like to thank James – and everyone else onvolved in Kirkstall in Bloom – for the work they’ve done for Kirkstall in Bloom this year – you’re all heroes/heroines! I’d also like to thank James for contributing regularly to the Dispatch – we’re run by volunteers and couldn’t exist without contributions like this!


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