Volunteer Now is calling on businesses and communities across Northern Ireland to honour local heroes by taking ‘Time to Say Thanks’ as part of a week-long programme of activity for Volunteers’ Week, which runs until June 7.
The week unites charities, voluntary groups, social organisations, and volunteers in recognising the impact that volunteering has in communities.
This initiative includes designated themed days showcasing the breadth and impact that different types of volunteering has played in local communities over the last year.
Approximately 282,000 formal volunteers carry out work with designated organisations as well as 470,000 informal volunteers, clearly reflecting the significance it plays throughout Northern Ireland.
It is estimated that voluntary organisations and volunteers across Northern Ireland carry out work worth more than half a billion pounds and contribute £504m to the local economy.
“Volunteers’ Week is A Time to Say Thanks to all those people across our communities who play such an integral part in so many of our lives,” says Denise Hayward, CEO at Volunteer Now.
“By giving up their time and offering their commitment and expertise so selflessly, our volunteers make an enormous contribution.
“By giving their time, energy and commitment to organisations and charities across Northern Ireland, our incredible army of volunteers continues to transform and improve the lives of people in our communities.
“At Volunteer Now we’re delighted to have this opportunity to say thank you for all they do, as they truly are the lifeblood of Northern Ireland.”
Volunteer Now has teamed up with a trio of well-known names to showcase the crucial work carried out by volunteers and to highlight some of the many fantastic opportunities available with charities across Northern Ireland.
Using the organisation’s Be Collective platform, which connects would-be volunteers with a huge range of volunteering opportunities, Eoghan Quigg, Cathy Martin and Marty O’Neill were each linked with a charity.
Former X Factor finalist and musician Eoghan joined a Mindwise-run guitar group in Ballyclare, Co Antrim.
“Joining the guitar group, which is headed up by a volunteer, was a great experience, and everyone welcomed me with open arms,” he says.
“But they didn’t just welcome me — I also brought along my little girl Emmy Belle, and she had a great time listening to us all as we played music by Oasis and Christy Moore.
“It was great to meet everyone, and I really enjoyed chatting about music and the challenges that come with learning guitar.
“Anyone who has learned an instrument can relate to getting frustrated sometimes, and a bit of camaraderie from people who can understand where you’re coming from is always helpful!
“Seeing a group like that close up, which Mindwise do such an incredible job in running, was a brilliant experience because it reminded me of what I already knew: that volunteers really are our unsung heroes.
“Their involvement in groups like these make a real, tangible difference to people’s lives.”
Eoghan praised the invaluable work being done behind the scenes without expecting anything in return.
“As a working dad with a young family, time is tight for me like it is for lots of people but getting that insight has been inspirational and I’d love to volunteer on a more regular basis in the future,” he says.
“I can see what a rewarding and worthwhile thing it is to do, and I’d definitely recommend finding an opportunity through Volunteer Now and their Be Collective platform for anyone who has time to spare and who would like to help people in their community.”
PR and talent agent Cathy joined Cats’ Protection in Dundonald, and the huge animal lover (and owner of cats Candy and Ali) had an ‘amazing’ afternoon.
“While I was at the Adoption Centre, I got to spend lots of time with some amazing animals and came to realise just how important all the time and interaction the volunteers devote to them is in preparing them for their forever homes,” she says.
“One of the stand-out animals I met during my visit was a kitten called Colette. She was absolutely adorable, and I was really drawn to her because she reminded me of my own cat Candy.
“What was unusual about Colette was that despite her young age, when she arrived as a stray with Cats’ Protection, she was pregnant. Since my visit I’ve learned that sadly two of her four kittens passed away.
“Complications arose because Colette’s body wasn’t developed enough to have kittens of her own, and unfortunately that’s not that uncommon with stray cats.
“Thankfully Colette and the other two kittens have survived, but this has really highlighted to me the importance of the work volunteers do, not only at Cats’ Protection, but at organisations right across Northern Ireland.
“At the minute, one of the main areas where Cats’ Protection need volunteers is in TNR, trap, neuter, return, where volunteers help neuter stray and feral cats in the community to prevent more cats and kittens suffering the same fate as Colette.”
Cathy learned the significance of the role the centre plays in our community.
“The incredible thing is that Cats’ Protection is far from alone,” Cathy continues.
“There are fantastic charities and organisations right across Northern Ireland that rely so much on the work of volunteers, and it’s been great to get some insight first-hand with my visit.
“Linking up with them through Volunteer Now was a great experience, and what really struck me about the organisation’s Be Collective platform was just how many opportunities there are.
“The range is huge, and there really is something to suit everyone, wherever you are in Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile, food, travel and lifestyle blogger Marty spent an afternoon in Holywood, Co Down with social community group Men’s Shed, something he described as a ‘pleasure.’
“It’s a great organisation, which I found through Volunteer Now, that carries out practical projects for the good of the community, while at the same time promoting the wellbeing of participants,” he says.
“During my visit the volunteers and participants let me get stuck right in with them working on one of their main projects at the minute at the old Dunville Community Garden within the Redburn Estate.
“Clearing brambles and undergrowth as I did my little bit of work to help bring the old garden back to its former glory, I was glad I wore the right gear, because it wasn’t a walk in the park!
“As well as the work itself, talking to the volunteers and participants at Men’s Shed was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
“It was a real eye-opener in showing me just how important the work that volunteers do is for our communities.
“There are so many different ways to help people, whether that’s giving up some time to do a bit of gardening together, or just have a much-needed chat.”
Marty acknowledges the opportunities available through Volunteer Now’s Be Collective platform.
“The work volunteers do for our communities is incredible, and it was a fascinating experience to find out more about it at all.”
See more about Eoghan, Cathy and Marty’s visits on their Instagram, @eoghanquigg, @cathymartin and @dishyouwerehere. To join the thousands of volunteer heroes across Northern Ireland, register and find the perfect opportunity for you at www.volunteernow.co.uk or follow @VolunteerNow on Facebook or Instagram