Saying thank you this Volunteers’ Week

A man walking down the street with his buddy. Both men are smiling at each other.

Charlotte leads our volunteer involvement across Sense. She talks about how vital volunteers are to Sense and the challenges we’ve faced over the last year.

This Volunteers’ Week I’m feeling especially grateful for the amazing people who volunteer at Sense.

I’ve been overwhelmed by our volunteer’s support over the last year. Our brilliant volunteers have stuck with Sense through the pandemic and the many changes that it’s brought.

But how has volunteering at Sense changed during the pandemic?

Well, we’ve had to adapt a lot! It’s meant adapting our face-to-face roles to virtual opportunities, and creating new volunteering opportunities, such as Virtual Buddying and community volunteering roles in our Sense Fundraising Groups. We’ve developed more flexible ways of volunteering to make it easier for people to get involved.

Keeping our charity shops going through lockdown 

Over 1,000 fantastic people volunteer in our charity shops across England and Wales. Due to various lockdowns, our charity shops have closed and reopened three times in the last year, and I think it’s incredible that our volunteers have stuck with us through this time. It’s also been a real pleasure to welcome a number of new volunteers to our shops.

Volunteering in the shops looks different to before (think more PPE and less hand shaking), but this hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of our volunteers!   

When I started volunteering with Sense back in 2014, I didn’t think it would lead me to where I am today. I had just moved in with my partner and left my old job in retail. Walking down the high street presented me with plenty of opportunities but none seemed to really fit. When I went into the Sense shop, it felt like another world. It was big and busy with friendly staff and I knew that this is where I would like to spend my time.

Sense volunteer

Staying connected virtually 

For a while, the pandemic put to stop to any face-to-face volunteering, which led to a lot of social isolation and loneliness. But how did we get around this and make sure people with complex disabilities were keeping connected?

We were really excited to launch our Virtual Buddying service last June. This matches a disabled person with a volunteer to socialise virtually – something we all got used to last year.

70 volunteers got involved in this great new initiative and meet up virtually with their buddies to bake cakes, take part in exercise classes, play games, watch films and craft together – to name just some of the activities!  

Volunteering is always a challenge for me as there isn’t much free time at university. When I received the email about Sense Buddying, I decided to make time for the things I am passionate about. Being a buddy for a young person is a huge responsibility but for me, it is so meaningful. Just taking the time to talk, has helped my young person to feel less isolated and alone. I am so happy I made the decision to volunteer for Sense and hope it will continue for years to come.

Sense volunteer
Two young women sitting at a table smiling at the camera. There's arts and crafts materials on the table and one of the women is holding a paint brush.

Getting back to face-to-face support 

Our face-to-face buddying activities adapted over the last year so we could still virtually support young people across East London.

Now restrictions are lifting and buddies can start to do lots of great activities together, like having fun their local parks and having a nice meal in a café.

Reducing loneliness and building confidence have just been two of the great ways our buddying programme has impacted the young people’s lives. I’ve been so inspired to see this support continue over the past year.

You can’t underestimate what an impact you will have on your buddy’s life, you can be their role model and form part of their support system and help them build more independence. In addition, the time you spend with your buddy might be the only time during the week their parents/carers have to themselves which is really valued. 

Sense volunteer

Volunteers are a key part of our Sense Holidays, and we were disappointed that we couldn’t run our Sense Holidays last year. This year they’re back on, and I can’t wait to hear all of the fun activities our volunteers get up to.

Could you be a Sense volunteer? 

We’re always looking for new volunteers to join our team and support people with complex disabilities. Why not find out more about how you could get involved. 

Bringing the values back into volunteering

A man standing up holding hands with two men who are sitting in wheelchairs.

Richard has been CEO at Sense and Sense International since 2018. He shares his experiences of volunteering and why he thinks it’s so important.

Before Covid-19, volunteering participation in the UK had remained largely static over the last ten years. There wasn’t sufficient noise about the value of volunteering on volunteers, charities and the wider society. There was insufficient evidence about the impact of volunteering.

Since the pandemic, the community response has been exceptional. And there’s better understanding of the people around us, like the impact of loneliness on an older person, or that an adult with sensory impairments can struggle to get to their shops. 

We can’t let that feeling go 

If we want mass volunteering to become the norm, we need to start planning now. This means embracing new, flexible forms of volunteering and integrating them into all services and programmes developed by charities.

And if we want to get the best from our sector, we mustn’t forget to get the best out of our volunteers. Not everyone wants to be recognised or thanked – but recognition and saying thank you is so important. 

Volunteering is incredibly powerful 

As we start Volunteers Week, my views on volunteering have been heavily informed by my time as a volunteer for Sense. I recall at my first Sense holiday, how one of our holiday makers, Suzie had her first experience of the seaside in Bournemouth.

She felt the texture of the sand, the salty taste of the sea and the wind on her face. For her, these were new and powerfully stimulating experiences. After the time we spent at the seaside, Suzie went and sat in the lounge before dinner and she giggled and erupted into fits of laughter for more than 30 minutes recalling the enjoyment in her own personal world.

Often, volunteering means celebrating an individual’s very heightened personal experiences and particular methods of communication. And when we connect like that with another person, we reveal new capacities not just in them, but in ourselves.

Every time I volunteer I discover new personal strengths as I put others first, and this is a reminder of how I can make the most of these qualities in my day to day work.

Keeping the sense of community

We must never compromise on the values behind volunteering. Volunteering gives meaning and purpose and joy and a sense of community. We must always remember that.

We can sustain this feeling of shared and collective effort to help others in need. Communities that have come together in challenging times can continue to support one another as things get better again.

The more we support each other, the more we gain ourselves.

Become a Sense volunteer

Interested in volunteering for Sense? You could become a volunteer in one of in our charity shops, on Sense Holidays our even in our community fundraising team.

Ensuring nobody is left out of life #CommunitiesCan

Two women on a Zoom call. Sense Connect was set up to ensure no one was left out of life during lockdown.

Lockdown showed us how lonely life can be when the people and places we love are taken away. But, what if life was already lonely before the isolation of the pandemic?  Sadly, that’s the case for thousands of disabled people in the UK. A study by Sense, before the pandemic, revealed that one in two disabled people (53%) feel lonely every day, rising to 77% for young disabled people. And lockdown has only made things worse.

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George’s Sense Holiday

Recently, I went on one of the best holidays of my life. No it wasn’t the jungles of Thailand or India. Nor was it the sprawling cities of New York or Berlin. It was Bewdley just outside of Kidderminster. Actually, it was just outside of Bewdley, just outside of Kidderminster. While it is not the most well-known or sought after destinations, Frank Chapman Centre hosted two groups of Sense holidaymakers, volunteers and leaders for a week of fun, friendship and adventure!

It was a cold Saturday morning when Emily Forman (Intervenor Service Manager) and I met up to prepare for our long journey from London to Bewdley. We were leading a Sense holiday together and while Emily led one last year, this was my first. Needless to say, the nerves were present. We had great support from the Sense Holidays and Short Breaks team and a good understanding of the volunteers and holidaymakers we had on the holiday. But spending a week away with people you don’t know is nerve-wracking for anyone.

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We’re all going on a Summer Holiday!

Jai and Jack are stood smiling at the camera with a Maze in the background.

There’s nothing quite like the great British countryside. Fresh air, green grass and generous quantities of tea make the UK holiday experience something quite special. It is more than flip flops, food and factor 50. It’s a time to take a breather and focus on our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. What makes Jack special was his decision to use his holiday to focus on the wellbeing of others; and he wouldn’t trade the experience for all the tea in Yorkshire.

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Volunteering on a Sense holiday is a really rewarding experience

A smiling man with his arm around a young man at a picnic table outside a farm

After an accident left me with some mobility issues, I felt a strong desire to support people with disabilities. Since then I have worked and volunteered with adults and young people with physical and learning disabilities. Volunteering on a Sense Holiday was an incredible experience.

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I made new friends when I volunteered on a Sense Holiday

Jack and Jai 4

Volunteering on a Sense Holiday is an unforgettable experience. Not only did I make friends with Jai, an amazing kid I supported to have a brilliant holiday, but I also became friends with like-minded volunteers like Jonny, who was also there to support disabled children with complex communication needs.

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A love of music connected Michael and volunteer James on a Sense Holiday

Whilst I was studying for my A-Levels, I decided to gain some extra experience volunteering on a Sense Holiday. It seemed like a great way to achieve my Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. But I never imagined I’d come away with the experience, memories and bond I developed with Michael, the young man I supported. Looking back, it was through a mutual love of music that enabled me and Michael to connect and communicate.

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I came away with far more than just BSL experience when I volunteered on a Sense Holiday

Two smiling women standing in a garden communicate with hand on hand signing

As a university student studying British Sign Language (BSL) interpreting, a Sense Holiday seemed like the perfect way to get some practical experience. But when I met Raji, I came away with so much more.

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As a volunteer, I helped Zead have an unforgettable holiday

A smiling man holding hands with a boy on a trampoline

Volunteering on a Sense Holiday with Zead was such a great memory. Zead is an enthusiastic 15 year old who loves spending time with other young people. He enjoys trips to the beach and zoo, and he’s always keen to try new things.

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