‘It is a way of meeting people, but also learning about things’
Few people will understand the responsibilities and rewards of volunteering better than Val Stewart.
Not only has Val, who lives in Skipton, undertaken a wide variety of volunteering roles during her life, but spent 14 years as volunteer co-ordinator for Carers’ Resource in the area, managing the needs of volunteers and the people they supported. She recruited, trained, supported and placed volunteers and made sure they were happy.
“Volunteers did everything from helping run a huge Edwardian garden fete at Broughton Hall to every month turning out to run lunch groups and coffee mornings around the area for the unpaid carers,” she said.
“Carers Resource supported family carers, so the husband looking after the wife who was ill, the daughter looking after mum, etcetera. It was a very wide-ranging charity. We dealt with child carers right through to an 80-year-old lady who was looking after her mother.
“For a volunteer, the pay is getting what they need out of it, whether that is gaining work experience, building up friendships or getting confidence. It’s a volunteer co-ordinator’s job to try to ensure that they get what they need, otherwise they leave.”
Val’s own volunteering roles have ranged from four years with Samaritans to a classroom assistant to helping at a stroke unit and the RSPB peregrine falcon watch at Malham Cove.
Since retiring last year, Val, 65, volunteers at Craven Museum, Skipton, as well as front of house at The Folly in Settle.
“I have moved around a lot,” she said. “So it is a way of meeting people, but it is also a way of learning about things that I wouldn’t overwise have much contact with and using skills that maybe your job doesn’t use.”
At the museum, she is part of a team cataloguing the collections, currently working on social history objects – everything from police shackles to medical equipment to jewellery.
“I have always been interested in history, but always thought I was useless at it because in my day you were taught history as dates and battles,” she said. “That never really grabbed me, but I have now discovered social history, so I am thoroughly enjoying it.”
Jenny Hill, museum and collections Lead at Craven Museum, said: “The work that volunteers like Val do really helps us to be able to keep sharing stories from the museum collection and to make it accessible for visitors and researchers. It also helps us to conserve and protect the collection for the future. We are incredibly grateful for all the help and support from volunteers.”
Val believes anyone who wants to volunteer should be able to find something to suit them.
“If somebody has the time, they will probably find something that interests them, whether it is working with steam railways or sitting on the end of the phone listening to someone in real despair, as I have done,” she said. “It is whatever you find fulfilling.”