In very simple terms, volunteering involves working for free. It involves giving your free time, usually to a charity. There is a huge range of volunteering roles which anyone can do, including helping at events, fundraising or charity shop work. In this piece, I am going to explain my role as a charity shop volunteer as well as how it has helped me and what volunteering means to me. I have found volunteering in a local Sue Ryder charity shop to be an extremely special part of my life.

I first started volunteering in April 2013, during my gap year. My main reason for volunteering was so that I could gain some work experience, which would hopefully lead into a paid job. I can vividly remember my first morning working in Sue Ryder. I know a lot about the work of Sue Ryder and how important it is due to personal experiences; therefore I was more than happy to give my time to them. Naturally, I was very apprehensive on my first day, having never worked in a shop before, I was unsure of what to expect. It turned out that I had absolutely nothing to worry about. Everyone in the shop was incredibly welcoming and supportive. I commenced by reading through the health and safety books and having a tour of the shop. The shop manager then asked whether I would prefer to work on the till in the front of the shop, or helping in the back. I was keen to do a bit of anything, so on the first day I was trained on the till and I was pleasantly surprised at just how quickly I picked it up.

From April until September I continued volunteering in the Sue Ryder shop, extending my knowledge and experience, gaining new skills and developing my self-confidence before starting university. I had various roles in the shop – working the till, keeping the shop tidy, stock rotation every Monday morning and price checking books on the Internet. I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering and I still do. I strongly believe that volunteering helped me a lot during my first term at university with my confidence in meeting new people and generally just believing in myself. During my Christmas holidays, I went back to Sue Ryder and volunteered there again. They were very keen to have me back in the shop which was delightful, and even the customers, especially the more regular customers inquired about where I had been for the past few months. They were even more impressed when I explained that I had started a languages and translation course at university.

Now it’s the summer holidays and not only am I volunteering at the Sue Ryder charity shop, but I have also started to be a social media volunteer for another Sue Ryder shop which is a fun thing to be a part of. Being a social media volunteer involves updating the shop’s Facebook page and Twitter account on a regular basis, as well as going into the shop occasionally to take photographs of the shop. I chose to apply for the social media volunteer role to give me something new to do as well as it being something a little different to add to my CV. More recently still, I have started writing for the Sue Ryder blog, which involves me writing about my experiences with Sue Ryder.

Volunteering has without a doubt transformed my life and has helped to shape me into the person I am today, despite the fact I’ve only been volunteering for a short amount of time. I have learnt an awful lot about what it is like to work in the retail sector and it has made me think that it is definitely something I would like to do in the future, after university. Since starting volunteering, I have met some of the most incredible people from the many other volunteers, the shop managers and the area managers too. I have thoroughly enjoyed every opportunity I have been given in the shop, which have all helped me to gain new skills and to learn about new roles. Through volunteering, I have been able to further understand the importance of the charity, aided obviously by the experience I had with a Sue Ryder funded hospice two years prior to starting volunteering. For these reasons, volunteering means a lot to me.

I would recommend volunteering to anyone who has free time to spare, to anyone who wants to learn new skills or simply to meet new people. It really can change your life. Before I started volunteering, I was extremely shy, however more than a year of volunteering later, I have developed in confidence and I always leave the shop feeling as though I have achieved something special. I see my writing on the Sue Ryder website as I share my experiences with other people and I really hope that it encourages and inspires others like myself to give volunteering a try.