FEATURE: City proves that charity really does begin at home
Carol Shepherd knows the importance of community.
For the last six years, the retired account clerk has been manning the Information & Advice desk at Age UK Sheffield.
She spends ten hours a week assisting people who need help with their benefits or utilities, or are seeking legal advice, pointing them in the direction of the appropriate agency.
The work is important - vital, even, to those she helps - and it’s mutually beneficial.
“I started volunteering a year after I lost my husband,” explained the 68-year-old, of Grenoside.
“I was looking for something to keep my busy, to help me fill my time and provide a sense of purpose. I didn’t want to go back to paid work, so I started looking into ways I could use my time to help people. I found Age UK Sheffield and it’s been so rewarding.”
Carol is one of thousands of people across the city who regularly give their time to a local community cause or charity. Not a big surprise given that Yorkshire was recently identified as one of the UK’s most community-minded regions, embracing local charities and community groups and the charitable services the provide.
According to the research, carried out by specialist charity insurance broker PolicyBee, almost half of Yorkshire’s residents have received the support of charities in their community at one time, and 80 percent have supported a local charity in the last year - either by shopping in charity shops, donating online or volunteering their time.
The study also revealed that many people feel there is a strong connection between charity and local community, with almost 50 per cent of those that volunteer locally, choosing to do so simply to give back to their communities.
73-year-old Arline Kersey, of High Storrs, has been volunteering at a city centre Oxfam charity shop for the past 14 years.
“I’ve always shopped at Oxfam shops and then, when I retired, I decided to start volunteering,” said the former primary headteacher.
“I love it. I get a lot out of volunteering - it fills my time and it’s lovely to meet so many people - but I’ve also learned a lot about the work Oxfam do. I think it’s incredibly valuable and I’m proud to give my time. I work two mornings a week in the shop, and have also started giving talks in local school and to local youth groups about the importance of the work Oxfam does and what we can all do to help.”
Research also showed that it is the younger generation, aged 25-34, that are leading the way when it comes to community spirit.
Tom Hague has been assistant group Scout leader with 105th High Green Scouting troop for the past seven years.
Tom joined the troop as a Beaver, when he was six, moving up to Cubs and then Scouts, before becoming an adult volunteer when he reached 18.
“Being an adult volunteer is fantastic, you get to take part in the same activities and enjoy all the same fun,” said the 25-year-old.
“It’s social time, for kids and volunteers alike, as much as anything else.
“Scouting adventures have taken me to France, Italy, Switzerland and even on a month-long trek through Nepal.
“We’re always seeking new adult volunteers; we have waiting lists for each of our groups - Beavers, Cubs and Scouts - and more volunteers would allow us to take more children on.”
Anne Dargue is chair of No Panic Sheffield, a registered charity which provides support to people with anxiety-related disorders.
“Our groups are run by volunteers who have been trained to act as facilitators,” she said.
“We give our volunteers as much training as possible - quite often these are psychology students from the local universities, or people who’ve attended the groups themselves at one time and seen the benefits firsthand.”
Mary Callaghan is a retired teacher and one of the founders of Sheffield Talking News - a self-funded, volunteer-run charity which delivers 90 minutes of local news to over 360 visually impaired people in Sheffield each week.
“People have told us that our news arriving at the door is one of the highlights of their week,” said Mary, who oversees a team of 60 volunteers.
“Our volunteers work on a rota basis, usually recording two hours of news once a month. It’s lovely hearing from our clients what a difference our work makes to them, in terms of keeping them connected with their local community.”
“Hearing from our clients that they wait all week long for that recording to arrive is exactly why we do this.”
Kerri-Ann Hockley, head of customer service at PolicyBee, who conducted the survey, said: “Local charities and small community groups are often the unsung heroes of our cities, towns and villages. From summer fete fundraising and community events to local youth groups and elderly care support, these services are vital to local communities.
“Smaller charities really get to the heart of the communities they serve, relying heavily on volunteers and public goodwill, and often struggling with resources or funding. It’s important that these smaller setups, their staff and volunteers are supported for the services they provide and the value they bring to our local communities.”