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Making friends through volunteering

One of our members tells us how she made friends through volunteering.  Worth considering if you are new to an area and want to get to know people.

I'd recently moved to a new area and without a job found I had much more time on my hands and no local friends to spend it with. After a few weeks of unpacking and wasting time at home I decided to take action and volunteer to do something useful with my time. What I hadn't anticipated was how much it would help me to settle into the local community.We'd spent my husbands 50th birthday in the A&E ward where his mother lives. Rather than celebrating in a nice hotel as we'd planned,  we were with his elderly mother trying to get her home after an emergency admission the day before. Frustrated with the way the systems werent working,  knowing she wasn't the only person in this situation and that I'd at some point be in the same position, I vowed to do something to help.I got in touch with the local volunteer bureau (most areas have one if you google) and also looked on the nationwide volunteering site  Both allow you to search (or discuss in person) the types of skills you can offer (eg office work, gardening, shopping, DIY) and the types of organisations or causes you are interested in (eg elderly, children, overseas aid etc) and suggest a shortlist of options.

Following my hospital experiences I was interested in helping with the elderly. I had experience of being on a charity board so was attracted by an opportunity to be a member of the board of trustees of the local AgeUK.

A couple of months later after a fairly informal interview, I'm sitting in a meeting room in Bradford as a trustee of Bradford and District Age UK. Round the table are eight other people who also want to make older peoples' lives better and have chosen to be a trustee for Bradford & District Age UK to do just that. We come from a variety of backgrounds, ages and skills. A good mix of working and no-longer working and from different ethnic backgrounds.

Trustees make sure that the charity fulfills its aims and is headed in the right direction.  So what does that mean in practice? We meet monthly for a few hours with the chief executive and his senior team. The CEO will give us an update on activities over the last month, how the various projects are progressing and raise any specific issues he wants to discuss with us to get our advice, input or approval. Topics may include whether we should create a new staffing post, how the finances are looking, latest discussions with the council on funding and ideas for new services the charity could offer. With our differing backgrounds there is a chance to share different perspectives and ideas and have some robust debates to make sure we emerge with the right decision for the charity.

I enjoy being a trustee for two reasons, apart from helping to improve the lives of the elderly on the local area.  I get a real satisfaction from using the skills I've learnt at work to help make the lives of the elderly better and it stretches me to use them in a different context.

There are lots of different opportunities to volunteer whatever your skills and interests; you could help with shopping for the elderly, work in a community cafe or a charity shop or help people with reading and writing. You can join a befriending service or work at an animal rescue centre.  Or you can help with admin in the office of a charity. There are lots of ways to volunteer and it can also be a way of learning new skills or gaining experience in a new area you might want to work in.

Being fairly new to the area, I have really enjoyed meeting a new set of people that I probably wouldn't come across in my day to day life; and learning from their experiences and local knowledge as many have lived in the local area all their life. Many organisations run social evenings for volunteers and spending time with people over a common activity and shared cause is a great way to get to know people and make new friends.

Why not take a look at and see what opportunities there are in your local town? You can help make a real difference, learn new skills and make some great new friends.