20 March 2012

Daffodils in the UK - copyright George Gensler

You don't have to go abroad to volunteer on your career break. There are long-term full-time volunteer opportunities right here in the UK. You'll develop skills that will help you professionally and socially, plus you'll be making a big difference to someone or somewhere in your own country.

These volunteer jobs can include conservation work, working with people who have disabilities, and caring for ill children. Many UK full-time volunteer jobs are live-in, so they require you to live away from home.

There are a wide variety of jobs you can volunteer for in the UK. Some require a fairly high level of experience and professional skills, such as being a warden for a National Trust property. Others simply require commitment and enthusiasm.

Things you might not know about volunteering in the UK

  • Some long-term full-time voluntary placements require you to live away from home while you're volunteering. This is usually because you're required to be on-site (eg if you're working at a residential centre for disabled children).
  • You can take a sabbatical from your paid job to do voluntary work, if your employer agrees to it. Normally an employer won't object to having your expenses paid but double-check your sabbatical agreement.
  • Whether you leave your job or go on sabbatical, you should contact the Department of Work and Pensions to see how your financial situation will be affected.

What voluntary work can I do in the UK?

Pretty much any paid work you can do in the UK, you can do as a volunteer as well. However, most volunteers choose to do something different from their day job. As well as a chance to do something new, it's also an opportunity learn new skills which you can take back to the office. Most volunteer organisations in the UK offer free training.

Popular UK full-time volunteering placements are in conservation (eg working for the National Trust) and in care - such as residential volunteering with disabled children, or helping disabled adults live independently.

Some career breakers use their professional experience to benefit a charity or non-profit organisation. Working as a full-time volunteer in a different environment like this, with different resources, can be a real eye-opener. Again, you can learn things that will benefit you in your career.

Bottom Pool - a funny sign on Forestry Commission land in the UK

What about money?

Almost all full-time voluntary jobs in the UK provide expenses, and some also offer accommodation and/or a small living allowance. Most will provide free training.

Where can I volunteer?

Pretty much anywhere. Some volunteering opportunities will only be available in certain places of course, so where you work depends on how flexible you are about where you live (there aren't going to be many conservation placements in city centres!).

How do I go about volunteering?

Start by deciding whether you want to volunteer near your home, or if you want to do a placement elsewhere in the UK. If you know of an organisation that you'd like to volunteer for, try contacting them directly to see what long-term full-time volunteering opportunities they offer.

What will I get out of being a volunteer?

Loads! The new skills you'll learn, the training you'll receive and the experience you'll get will all help you in your career.

Now where?

A stag on National Trust land in the UK