Volunteering can be an incredibly rewarding experience and with the latest figures showing that 42 per cent of the UK officially does so, it seems many people agree.
Sheffield and the wider Yorkshire region has a wealth of charities and community organisations working for local communities, supported by volunteers of all ages and experiences.
Local charity South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation (SYCF) relies on its volunteers more than most. As a grant-making charity it provides grant awards for community projects and its volunteers are essential to that.
Melvyn Lunn, 67, Audrey, 80, Anne, 70, Peter, 70, and Brian, 74, are just a few of the volunteers that make up the independent panels that review applications for grant awards.
Melvyn said: “Being a part of the panels means we see some interesting projects and I think it’s great being able to support them. What is difficult is that we know that there is a greater local need then we are sometimes able to fulfil.”
I get to meet these amazing people who don’t actually know what they achieveAnne Dean
Brian added: “I joined as a volunteer some time ago now and my reasons were partly altruistic and partly selfish. I wanted to help my community but it also helps with my rehabilitation. It gets me out and about doing things that I wouldn’t do otherwise.
“What I like about the foundation is when we give small amounts to small groups, that makes the big difference. So £50 for a new tea urn or to fix the lino in a community hall so people don’t trip over. Making such a big difference with such small amounts of money is very rewarding.”
Most volunteers have worked with the foundation for many years, with the longest serving member, Anne Dean, starting right at the beginning 30 years ago.
Anne said: “I came in 1986, so I’ve been here the full 30 years. It’s the people and the communities that are changed by the money that goes to the groups, that is the exciting part. I’ve done a lot of visits to these groups and it’s amazing to see what people can do with so little.
“What I love is that when I do the visits, I get to meet these amazing people who don’t actually know what they are achieving and doing for their community, they are too busy doing it. “And they do it because they knew that someone had to. We can see the impact of that and help, which is just wonderful.”
In 30 years, SYCF has distributed over £26m in grant awards, overseen by independent local volunteer panels. In that time over 8,000 community organisations have benefitted but for these volunteers there is always a few groups that really stick in their minds.
Peter said: “I think the big one is JADE. We were there when they were just starting out as a dance event to get kids off the street. It’s the ones that we get to watch grow which are the most rewarding.”
Audrey added: “Re-read is another fantastic group. I go quite often with a box of books and they are always so thankful, its lovely.”
Re-Read is a social enterprise in Doncaster which saves books from landfill and provides them for free to schools and the local community. JADE is a community organisation which works in Rotherham to support disadvantaged young people and to help them with their education and personal goals and ambitions.
Melvyn continued: “I always tell groups that want to apply to go to our website. All the information is there and if you get stuck then speak to the grant managers. It’s quite unusual that if you call then you actually speak to someone rather than a voice telling you to press one for this or two for that.”
Peter added: “It gives you an extreme amount of satisfaction when you do advise a group which then succeeds. One group I met didn’t know anything about SYCF before I spoke to them and they have now benefitted from a few awards. They would never have applied without my talking to them first.
“I was out the other day and a women said to me. ‘You’re the man from the foundation aren’t you?’ And I said ‘How do you know?’ and she said SYCF helped us sort out our heating system.”
The SYCF volunteers meet every few months to take part in the panels set up for each area of South Yorkshire and specialised funds.
Anne added: “It’s very rewarding to be a panel member and even if you are working a lot of employers are happy for you to volunteer. Being on a panel matches a lot of the key skills looked for in education and employment these days too.
“I think people can have more confidence in the decisions made because we are all local and independent and represent different parts of the county.”
If you would like to find out more about how to become a volunteer panel member with South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation (SYCF) then email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0114 242 4857 to find out more about current opportunities and eligibility. To see if your group can apply for grant funding from SYCF, visit South Yorkshire Community Foundation - Apply
To set up your own fund to benefit South Yorkshire or for other ways of giving go to South Yorkshire Community Foundation - Give The foundation is celebrating its 30th birthday and to give a birthday gift visit South Yorkshire Community Foundation or text SYCF30 £3 TO 70070.