Types of volunteering

Volunteering can be very rewarding and provides new areas of interest. Volunteering opportunities are diverse.

There is a network of volunteer support centres across Northern Ireland that can give information on volunteering opportunities in your area.

Volunteer Now manages the Northern Ireland wide database of volunteering opportunities. Organisations also advertise their volunteering opportunities.

You can also contact your local council for information about projects supported in your area.

Volunteering to work with animals

Volunteering to work with animals can be a hobby or give you the confidence and skills to help you change career. Opportunities include:

  • dog walking and kennel duties
  • looking after injured animals
  • working at a community farm
  • monitoring local wildlife
  • working with stray and feral cats
  • helping at the zoo

You can also volunteer for roles which don't involve working with animals, for example, many wildlife and animal charities need help organising events or with photography and fundraising.

Commitment

Think about the level of commitment you are willing to give. Looking after animals can be demanding, physical work and you may need some training. For example, if you want to work as a volunteer at a local wildlife rescue centre you should be able to recognise the symptoms of sick animals and request specialised help. The majority of animal rescue centres will not expect you to be an animal specialist but it helps if you are keen to learn and have a love of animals.

Volunteer for a community project

You can make a difference in your local area by donating just a few hours each week. From helping with a community-based recycling scheme through to providing support over local health issues, there are many ways to help.

Many local projects also offer 'commitment free' options for people with limited time. For example, if you have a free day one weekend, you can go to a footpath clearance project and spend a few hours helping out. No pre-existing skills or training are required and everyone 'mucks in' with the tasks.

Seeing the difference

Many community volunteers pick local projects so they can actually see the difference their time makes. Physical changes, such as improving parks and open spaces will make the environment a better place to live. Also, social changes can be seen from assisting those who are socially deprived. This may help to build confidence and skills.

Sports volunteering

You don't need to be good at the sport in which you wish to volunteer. Some of the most important attributes include enthusiasm and interest.

Your sports organisation should put you through any qualifications that you need to carry out your role. Most people volunteer on average two or three hours a week but there are also opportunities to volunteer more or less often.

Coaching

To become involved in coaching in a particular sport, a coaching qualification may be required. Many sports organisations run coach development courses regularly. For more information on sports coaching, visit the Sport Northern Ireland website.

Administration

This includes many roles such as acting as a secretary for a sports club, managing registrations for an event or managing club membership.

Officiating

This includes a variety of roles such as acting as a referee, umpire or another adjudicator at sports events. It can also include marshalling or registering participants.

Committee work

Committee members in a sports organisations carry out a range of roles;  coordinating areas such as communications, coaching, recruitment or regulations.

Organising events and competitions

Successful sports events often rely on the help of volunteers in the run up to the event, on the day itself and afterwards.

Volunteering in hospitals

Contact your local Health and Social Care Trust and ask about hospital volunteering opportunities. Your local Trust is the organisation that runs healthcare services in your area. Many Trusts have a voluntary service manager or a team of people responsible for co-ordinating volunteers.

Applying for a volunteering role in a hospital

Individual trusts will advise but may expect you to fill in an application form.

You must be over 16 to volunteer in a Health and Social Care Trust except in the Belfast Trust where volunteers must be at least 18. If you have a criminal record you will be asked to declare this. You may be asked to get a criminal records check.

Following submission of an application form you may be asked to have a short informal meeting with health and social care trust staff. You may also be asked to give references.

Types of volunteering roles in hospitals

There are many roles open to volunteers. Some involve working with hospital staff, while others involve spending time with patients. For example, you might help staff with administrative tasks or you might sit with a patient during an eye operation. Often volunteers spend time talking to patients who don’t have friends or family members to visit them.

It is up to you how much time you spend volunteering each week or month. However, individual trusts may ask you to commit to volunteering for a certain period of time, for example six months. Normally, volunteers are asked to be available at the same time each week or month. This allows the hospital staff to know before how much help they will have each day.

Benefits of volunteering in a hospital

As well simply wanting to help other people, it is a good way to gain experience if you’re interested in a career in healthcare. People who volunteer can find it boosts their confidence.

Green volunteering

There are different ways to get involved through volunteering, including community work and initiatives such as:

  • wildlife conservation
  • environmental education projects
  • supporting international aid work
  • recycling
  • taking part in your nearest community group which works on environmental or global issues

Your local volunteer centre can provide information about local volunteering and the following organisations also have volunteering opportunities:

Ulster Wildlife

The Nature Reserves team based at the Crossgar office is always looking for additional volunteers to help at the Trust’s 20 nature reserves across NI. Conservation work includes:

  • monitoring species
  • compiling flora/fauna lists for each site
  • project work
  • bird box building
  • compiling tool inventories
  • completing risk assessments

If you are interested contact Ulster Wildlife.

National Trust Northern Ireland

There are different ways for volunteers to get involved in conservation work with the National Trust:

  • working holidays
  • long-term volunteering
  • joining a local volunteer group

National Trust volunteers work with wardens on the coast and in the countryside completing bird, mammal and butterfly surveys and building traditional dry stone walls.

Other volunteering work could include gardening, forestry, tour guiding, fencing or hedge laying.

If you are interested email the National Trust: 
Email: ni.volunteering@nationaltrust.org.uk

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

RSPB volunteers in can get involved with practical management on the reserves, guarding nest sites and surveying seabirds, farmland birds and wildlife.

For more information, read about volunteering on the RSPB website.

Irish Whale and Dolphin Group

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) operates a scheme where members of the public, birdwatchers, skippers, captains, deck- hands, surfers, divers, pilots and whale-watchers can report any sightings of whales, dolphins or porpoises in Irish waters.

Volunteer for their sightings scheme and learn more about whales and dolphins at IWDG events and whale watching courses throughout Ireland by visiting the IWDG website.

Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust (WT) welcomes volunteers across its 53 sites in NI. Volunteers play an important role in conserving and protecting WT woods for future generations and are closely involved in a wide range of interesting and fun tasks.

Volunteers act as wardens of WT woods, monitoring the woodland and its inhabitants, keeping the woods free of litter, encouraging biodiversity, helping with tree planting and guided walks, and acting as WT's ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground. For further information, contact the Woodland Trust.

Conservation Volunteers

Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland is an environmental charity involving people in practical projects to improve the environment.

They have offices in Belfast, Bangor, Coleraine, Castle Archdale in Fermanagh and Londonderry, with volunteering opportunities in each office.

A typical day's volunteering could range from dry stone walling with the Conservation Action Team to coppicing hazel trees with the Biodiversity team.

If you would like to find out more, contact The Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland.

Eco-Schools Scheme

The Eco-Schools Scheme is a world-wide, green education programme which encourages environmental awareness among children through the school curriculum.

TIDY Northern Ireland operates the Eco-Schools Scheme in Northern Ireland. There are over 870 schools in Northern Ireland registered with this green programme.

When a school follows a defined environmental learning and action programme, they receive a Green Flag award.

Countryside volunteering

If you are interested in volunteering in the countryside, visit your local council's website to find out more.

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